Carmen Castillo, re-elected to the Providence City Council, has defied political odds as a working-class candidate, say experts.
By day, Carmen Castillo works as a hotel housekeeper, making beds and cleaning rooms. By night, she’s sitting on committees and voting on decisions at City Hall — she was recently re-elected to the Providence City Council.
Sitting at her kitchen table, Castillo laughed with her friend and assistant Martha Siddique when recalling her re-election campaign.
“This was headquarters,” Castillo said, gesturing around her home. “We moved the couches in the living room, hung up charts on the wall, and all the volunteers came over. We would go out knocking on doors in the rain, and then stay up working until 3 a.m.”
“We were always tired,” Siddique added, “because we had to go to work the next day.”
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Castillo immigrated with her three daughters to the U.S. in 1994. After working in a factory, she took a job as a room attendant in a downtown Providence hotel, a job she has held for 24 years. At the hotel, she helped organize a union and became an activist for workers.
After being active in her community and her union for many years, she was elected to the City Council in 2011, then re-elected in 2014 and 2018.
At the local level, Castillo embodies the trend of political candidates becoming more diverse in terms of gender, class and ethnicity.
WORKING-CLASS POLITICIANS? ‘ALMOST NEVER’
According to Nicholas Carnes, associate professor at Duke University and author of “The Cash Ceiling: Why Only the Rich Run for Office — and What We Can Do About It,” it is atypical for a working-class person to run for and win elected office.
“Manual, clerical and service jobs make up a little over a half of our labor force, and working people are still the backbone of our economy,” he said. “But working-class people almost never go on to become politicians.”
In Carnes’ view, people like Castillo and former Wisconsin congressional candidate Randy Bryce are exceptions to this rule.
Although many working-class people are qualified to run for office, Carnes noted, there are structural barriers in the political system working against them. A great deal of moneyand free time is usually needed to run for public office. And the gatekeepers who recruit candidates often pass over working-class people in favor of business professionals.
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