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The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

‘The city raised me’: Suffolk alum reflects on college career following election victory

Enrique+Pep%C3%A9n+poses+with+Boston+residents+during+his+City+Council+campaign.
Courtesy of Enrique Pepén
Enrique Pepén poses with Boston residents during his City Council campaign.

To Boston’s newly elected District 5 city councilor, Enrique Pepén, the city is more than just his hometown.

“I was raised in public housing, I went to public schools. I grew, I learned how to read in a public library, or how to swim in a public pool. The city raised me,” said Pepén.

Pepén graduated from Suffolk University in 2019 with an undergraduate degree in law and public policy and is now one of four new city councilors elected to serve next year.

Despite his age, Pepen quickly earned the attention of more established politicians with endorsements from Mayor Michelle Wu, former Rep. Joe Kennedy, City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, the Boston Globe Editorial Board and an array of unions.

“Enrique is exactly the kind of leader we need in government. He’s thoughtful and kind, creative and tenacious — and above all dedicated to serving the community,” Wu said in a statement endorsing Pepén, according to WBUR

Pepén ran against José Ruiz, a retired Boston police officer, winning the seat with 52.75% of the vote Nov. 7. Pepén’s victory followed a historic upset in the Sept. 12 preliminary election, with incumbent candidate Ricardo Arroyo losing the nomination after allegations throughout his council tenure of sexual assault and election meddling. 

“[Pepén’s] campaign was great,” said Christina Kulich, a political science professor at Suffolk. “He knocked on a lot of doors, and he got people out on a special offseason kind of election that virtually nobody turned out for.”

As a first-generation college student, the opportunities and support network provided by Suffolk helped Pepén get to where he is today.

“[I’m] just really grateful for the opportunity that Suffolk gave me,” said Pepén. 

During his time at Suffolk, Pepén worked in constituent services for former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and later became the district coordinator and special assistant for former Rep. Joe Kennedy. Suffolk’s catchphrase “The city is our campus” took on a new meaning with Pepén, who jumped at the chance to pursue both his education and career in tandem.

“What was cool about going to Suffolk and being a commuter student is that I was able to work and not feel like I was tied down to the campus,” he said.

At Suffolk, Pepén was known as a relentless student who was determined to create change in his community.

“Enrique has been involved in politics from the minute I knew him at a functional level,” said Kulich.

Pepén’s work ethic and determination made him stand out at Suffolk, with a packed schedule of internships and classes setting him apart.

“Enrique was always driven,” said Kulich. “He was the one kid in the class who was always showing up in a suit because he was always doing other things.”

Pepén’s time at Suffolk has gone on to influence his policy today. For students who are looking to pursue higher education, Pepén believes that equity is key and that opportunity should be accessible to everyone.

“Ultimately, looking back at it, I want to make sure that high school students in Boston who have the same story that I did, or at least a similar one, feel like they have the opportunity to go to college by getting the right education in high school and having access to mentorship programs and good financial aid,” he said.

Pepén said he is excited to jump into addressing Boston’s education system and pressing environmental concerns. District 5 encompasses Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roslindale, which Pepén said has limited greenery for residents, as well as higher rates for asthma.

I want to be able to make that neighborhood a healthier place for the children,” said Pepén, a Roslindale resident. 

Pepén is facing a penalty after breaking a state campaign finance law after promoting his campaign kickoff in June while still working as a city employee. 

Pepén also conducted an interview for his campaign from City Hall, according to state officials, although it was after hours and Pepén’s campaign said no city Wi-Fi or devices were used. Unelected city employees are barred from soliciting or advertising for campaign donations. 

Pepén was fined $5,400 as part of a resolution with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance and said he wants to focus on his service to the Boston community.

“I didn’t know the exact laws that were for first-time candidates, and I learned and I paid the fine,” said Pepén. “I just want to do the right thing going forward and I want to be sure that I’m serving the residents the right way.”

For students who are looking to make change in their local community, Pepén said getting involved with organizations is the first step.

“Get involved, look for a local organization, become a volunteer or just sit in a meeting about something that you care about,” he said. “Once you’re part of the community, it’s only up from there because then you start meeting the people that care about the same things that you do. You’re able to organize, you’re able to make change.”

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About the Contributor
Shealagh Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief | she/her
Shealagh is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in international relations from Ashby, Mass. She has previously worked as a co-op for the Boston Globe on the homepage desk and as an intern for GBH News and Boston Public Radio. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding a new favorite coffee spot and exploring Boston. She is a huge art lover and wants nothing more than to see the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. After graduation, Shealagh hopes to be a political journalist in Washington D.C. Follow Shealagh on Twitter @ShealaghS.

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