Easthampton’s Gomez makes history as first Latino elected to council

  • Homar Gomez is the first Latino elected to the Easthampton City Council in its 21-year history. Homar Gomez

  • Homar Gomez and Margaret Conniff have fun during an election night gathering Tuesday at Abandoned Building Brewery. Gomez won the Easthampton City Council Precinct 2 seat, the city’s first Latino elected to the council in its 21-year history. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Friday, November 10, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — When Homar Gomez left Puerto Rico in 1997 to pursue a better life for his family in Massachusetts, he never imagined he’d be where he is today — a history-making politician in his adopted city.

On Tuesday, Gomez, 42, was elected to serve on the Easthampton City Council representing Precinct 2. He’s the first Latino elected to serve on the council in its 21-year history.

Gomez said being the first Latino on the council sends the message “This is your city too” to all the Latinos in Easthampton, and hopes more will become involved in the community, attend public meetings and run for elected office.

Easthampton went from a town form of government to a city in 1996, electing a mayor and city council rather a board of selectmen.

From the 2000 to 2010, the city’s population stayed stable at about 16,000. Meanwhile, the Latino population in the city grew from 2.1 percent, or 336, in 2000, to 3.7 percent, or 590, in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Four years later, the Latino population in Easthampton was at 4.5 percent, or 722, according to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

When living in Puerto Rico, Gomez said he spent 50 to 70 hours a week working at a factory, but it was barely enough to get by. Gomez said he wanted a better life for his daughters, and moved to Massachusetts, where his wife’s father lived. He has lived throughout Hampshire County in his 20 years here, including in Northampton and Amherst.

Gomez and his wife bought their first home in 2003, choosing Easthampton for the affordable prices and the school system. He became involved in the community. Today he works as a varsity softball coach at Easthampton High School and does finance work remotely for his family’s bakery in Puerto Rico.

As a city councilor, Gomez said he wants to take on more eco-friendly initiatives to “go green,” such as using solar energy to power the Municipal Building and placing recycling bins throughout the city.

Transparency and accessibility are also important to Gomez, and he’d like to make more city documents available online.

Gomez said he supports building a pre-K through 8th grade school, but said the tax increase could be a burden for some.

“Our job as city councilors is to find a way to help those people,” he said.

While the city has become more diverse, it has also had racial tensions in the past.

During a City Council meeting in December 2011, then-City Councilor Donald Cykowski sparked an uproar when he said, “Where’s a Puerto Rican when we need one?” after leaving the council chambers and not being able to re-enter because the door was locked.

The comment caused outrage in the city, and City Council President Joseph McCoy drafted a resolution stating that the council does not condone or tolerate discrimination.

Gomez said he signed a petition to recall Cykowski at the time. The recall petition fell short 17 of the 2,235 signatures needed to schedule an election. Cykowski ran for re-election in 2013 and lost his seat.

When running for the Precinct 2 seat, Gomez said local government can set an example for the community on how bias and discrimination cannot be tolerated.

Gomez has faced discrimination during his time in western Massachusetts. He said that with a strong, Spanish accent, many people think he’s stupid. But he often recalls a story his father told him.

Gomez said his father, who grew up in Philadelphia, dreamed of joining the Navy.

“One of his teachers told him ‘Puerto Ricans don’t go to the Navy,’” Gomez said, adding that it basically meant he is too stupid to join.

Gomez said his father used it as inspiration to join the Navy anyway.

Gomez said he doesn’t like calling someone a Hispanic or Latino. He said people are all human beings, no matter what race.

“We are all the same,” he said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.