It’s been a little over a year since Julian Cyr took the oath of office as State Senator of Cape Cod & the Islands. We checked in with the Cape native to see how his experiences growing up on the Cape (raised in Truro!) in a family seasonal small business (they owned Adrian’s in North Truro for 28 years), working for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (a policy and regulatory affairs consultant), being a member of the LGBT Youth Commission, as well as now a young elected official (he’s 32!) have all come together as part of his public service for our area.
Why is it important to you to be involved in public service in the role of State Senator? Did you always envision this path or has it unfolded in a more organic or unexpected way?
Julian: I had my first taste of organizing and public service when I was 16 years old as a junior at Nauset Regional High School. At that time, the arts and music program was slated to be eliminated unless voters at town meetings across four towns approved a Proposition 2 1/2 override to sustain quality education. I was particularly motivated because my choir teacher stood to lose her job if voters didn’t bridge the funding gap. My classmates and I decided that we could not let this happen, and so we launched a ‘Save Our Schools’ initiative via a mailing to taxpayers and lobbying at town meetings to convince every town in the school district to pass an override. Somehow we were successful — the override passed! It was the first time that I realized that I could step into my community and create change. Previously I had been a bookish and shy kid, and so my first foray into public service was organic. I certainly did not envision then that I would run for public office or be elected state Senator, but I always knew that I would stay involved in my community. In the years since, I studied public policy and got a chance to work in policy and politics, and only then did I begin to wonder “should I run for elective office?” What ultimately inspired me to run for public office was recognition that communities on the Cape & Islands are changing rapidly and facing profound challenges. The future of this region is dependent on Cape Codders and Islanders of our generation to step up and lead.
Our current political climate is creating a lot of stress across political views. One thing most people seem to be craving is common ground and action. How can Cape Codders who are interested in increasing their civic engagement get more involved at the local level?
Julian: This is a tremendously exciting moment when it comes to local engagement and there are a number of groups working right now to bring people together on the Cape and Islands. There’s been a lot of energy to rebuild and strengthen the Cape and Islands Democratic Council; they’ve launched a fellows program to train organizers and held the 2nd anniversary of the Women’s March on Hyannis Green. Several fantastic groups were created after the election (Indivisible, We Stand Together on Martha’s Vineyard) that strive to harness the urgency that many of us have felt since the 2016 election. Housing Assistance Corp. and Community Development Partnership have launched a program to train the next generation of local housing advocates. These entities are doing important work supporting local candidates, hosting seminars, and educating Cape Codders about how they can make change at the local level.
As someone who grew up in a local family-owned business, what are the challenges and opportunities for small-business owners on Cape Cod?
Julian: The largest challenge facing local family-owned businesses is the nature of our seasonal economy and how that impacts our workforce. It’s both a blessing and a curse. In my family, there was always a discussion of how much longer we could keep the restaurant open; can we open before Memorial Day and how far can we stretch into October? This is a reality that so many families on the Cape and Islands are facing; we are dependent on the seasonal tourism economy. We always need to be looking for ways to extend the season (and for me, ways to secure adequate state support of tourism promotion). The twin challenge is workforce. Stratospheric housing costs and a longer season have meant that in the last two decades more local businesses rely on H2B and J-1 visa employees to supplement our workforce in the busy summer months. On Cape Cod, every one H2B or J-1 visa worker creates two jobs for Cape Codders who live here year-round. Uncertainty and dysfunction at the federal level have given proprietors across the reason a major headache — and with no resolution in sight, we’ll have to rely on all our entrepreneurial acumen to figure out how to solve the workforce crisis in the region.
As you look around the Cape today, what excites you most in terms of the future for our sandbar?
Julian: Right now I am most excited about the level of participation and engagement that I am seeing at the local level. People who have never served at the local level before are stepping up to run for Selectboard or serve on the dozens of boards we have in each of our towns. What happened in Provincetown last winter is an apt example; a group of housing advocates, young business owners, elected officials, and town residents came together and overwhelmingly approved the purchase of a bankrupt timeshare for workforce rental housing units at Special Town Meeting. We saw similar efforts in Truro and Falmouth with accessory dwelling unit bylaws, Orleans take up important changes to the zoning of their downtown, and now Harwich, Dennis, and Yarmouth develop a tri-town community partnership to address costly wastewater needs. These are communities that are coming together to ensure our towns will be places where young families can afford to start a life and older adults retire with dignity. That’s powerful stuff, and while there is much more work to do, I am very excited to see more engagement and progress at the local level.
What is something that readers might be surprised to know about you?
Julian: I was raised surrounded by a menagerie of horses, chickens, ducks, Guinea fowl, rabbits, cockatiels, cats, and dogs. My family still has quite a few pets. As a child, I collected hundreds of plastic animal figurines and arranged them by genus; everyone expected I would become a zoologist. I have a profound respect and love for all animals.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Cape Cod day?
Julian: My favorite way to start out a day at home on the Outer Cape is to get a breakfast sandwich at the Salty Market on Highland Rd. in North Truro. Salty Market is owned by some of my best friends who used to work in my family’s restaurant. I’m such a regular that they even named my usual breakfast sandwich order “The Senator” after I was elected. After that, we’ll pick something up to-go for lunch (I’m a devotee of The Box Lunch’s Organic Pocket) and spend the rest of the afternoon at a quiet beach in Truro with my family, friends, and the dogs. If it’s a cloudy day, I’ll make my way to the Susan Baker Memorial Museum in North Truro, where my favorite local artist and raconteur holds court in her gallery. Or maybe we’ll check out the scene at Truro Vineyards and their delicious food truck The Crush Pad. In high summer, I’ll meet friends at Provincetown’s famed Tea Dance at The Boatslip and then dine en plain air in The Canteen’s magical back patio hidden off Commercial Street.