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Dylan Fernandes: Cape Crusader

Rappaport Urban Scholar, State Rep, Climate & Affordable Housing Advocate

When Massachusetts State Representative and Rappaport Urban Scholar Dylan Fernandes was elected to represent the Cape and the Islands at 26, he became one of the state’s youngest legislators, representing one of the nation’s oldest districts.

After seven years in office, Fernandes is launching a campaign for state senate to represent the Plymouth and Barnstable districts. That seat includes the four towns of the Upper Cape—Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich, and Mashpee—as well as Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth, and Plympton. He is seeking the seat being vacated by State Sen. Susan Moran (D-Falmouth), who is running for the Barnstable County Superior Court clerk position in 2024.

A fourth-generation native of Falmouth, Massachusetts, Fernandes is acutely aware of his responsibility to one of the most beautiful areas on Earth, with one of the longest coastlines in the country.

As a fierce advocate for his constituents and neighbors, Fernandes entered public service to make a difference and leave the world a better place than he found it.

“You only get so many days on Earth, and I want to spend my time making the world a better place. Politics and public service provide you with an opportunity to make a significant impact. That’s why I entered government at an early age,” Fernandes said.

After earning his degree from the College of Charleston, Fernandes contributed to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign and served as political director for Maura Healey’s 2014 Attorney General of Massachusetts bid. Following her victory, Fernandes went on to work as a digital director in the Attorney General’s Office. His work included founding the ‘Everyone Welcome’ campaign to support the bill for transgender rights. In 2016, when Fernandes’ predecessor, Timothy Madden, announced his retirement, Fernandes launched his campaign for state representative.

Competing in a five-candidate primary in a district with 50,000 voters, Fernandes remained true to his values amidst a contentious campaign, ultimately winning by 13 percentage points.

“We ran a solid campaign; being 26 and looking like I was 18 ended up being a positive asset. People wanted to see new energy and a change in government. Despite my age, having the most relevant experience of anyone running and bringing youth and vitality to the campaign helped us win by a large margin in a highly competitive field,” Fernandes recounted.

In 2022, Fernandes was honored as a Rappaport Urban Scholar, receiving a full-tuition scholarship to attend the Harvard Kennedy School’s mid-career Master’s in Public Administration (MC/MPA) program. Established in 1981, the program has enabled over 50 emerging public policy leaders from Greater Boston to pursue a master’s degree at Harvard Kennedy School while equipping themselves with the knowledge and tools necessary to address issues in the Greater Boston area. Fernandes first heard about the program from Anne Magaret Ferrante, a fellow Massachusetts Representative and Rappaport Urban Scholar alum.

“I can’t think of a better environment for someone who likes learning and challenging their ideas and perspectives than to be at one of the most renowned institutions in the world, learning from world-renowned experts in a classroom with a bunch of really smart people,” Fernandes shared. “My dad didn’t graduate high school, and I am attending Harvard. I initially felt imposter syndrome; what am I doing here? But once I realized I belonged and had things to contribute, it was a big confidence boost.”

You only get so many days on Earth, and I want to spend my time making the world a better place. Politics and public service provide you with an opportunity to make a significant impact. That’s why I entered government at an early age.

Dylan Fernandes

Housing is the primary concern for Fernandes’ constituents. “I live in one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, places on earth. The median home price on Nantucket is around 4.5 million dollars. On the Vineyard, it’s between One and two million; on the Cape, it’s hovering below a million. Homeownership is completely out of reach for the working class and high-income people. We have a housing market that is completely broken, and people are suffering as a result. People have to move off Cape and islands, eroding our communities and way of life.”

To address this, Fernandes proposed a mansion tax, which would allow communities to implement a real estate transaction fee of 0.5 percent to 2 percent on property sales exceeding $1 million. The revenue would be allocated to affordable housing initiatives.

“I was the first in the legislature to propose a mansion tax on multi-million-dollar home sales. We are excited that the Governor announced two weeks ago that our proposals are included in her housing bond bill,” Fernandes said.

Climate Change
A land of beaches, ponds, marshes, and rivers, the Cape is a diverse ecosystem particularly susceptible to the prolonged effects of climate change.

“We’re likely to have two and a half feet of sea level rise within this century,” Fernandes warned. “There will be large parts of my district that I grew up and love that won’t exist, no matter how much money we spend. It’s going to be a huge issue moving forward. Combine that with increased storm size and wind velocity because of a warming ocean, and we’re going to have a much different coastline than we do now and within this century.”

Fernandes, a realist, recognizes the complexity of addressing climate change.

“When it comes to climate change, our competitive advantage is that no one else in the Continental U.S. has our wind energy capability. Southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape, and the Islands are the windiest places in the Continental U.S., so we’ve been pushing to expand offshore wind turbines 120 miles offshore. Wind energy is plentiful and readily available, and capturing its power does not deplete our natural resources. Electricity generated by wind turbines does not pollute the water we drink or the air we breathe, so wind energy means less smog, less acid rain, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve filed a number of bills last session and passed some legislation around expanding our offshore wind industry here,” he said.

Moreover, Fernandes sees the potential for job creation and significant economic growth in his district and the broader Southeastern Massachusetts region, which the Commonwealth often neglects.

Anyone familiar with traveling to the Cape understands the frustrations of crossing the Canal. Representative Fernandes advocates for a commuter train line to alleviate the congestion, maintain aging infrastructure, stimulate economic growth, and reduce vehicular traffic.

“We need a train to Cape Cod to mitigate the awful traffic there, spur economic growth, and take cars off the road to help us meet our climate goals,” Fernandes stated. “We have the rail infrastructure in place, so we need to upgrade the tracks on the Cape side to get high-speed rail to our area and unlock the economic and climate benefits. Today, the ways from Buzzards Bay, which is on the other side of the bridge, are ready to go, and there’s no reason why we can’t have high-speed rail running from Buzzards Bay/Bourne area up to Boston right now. We’ve filed legislation to make that happen first.”

Fernandes has noted the absence of opposition to his plan. He believes it’s time for his constituents, who have contributed to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for years, to benefit from rail access to Bourne.