Amy Sangiolo talks work, passion and what turned her eyes toward the state house

Amy Mah Sangiolo didn’t set out to run for the state legislature.

She never intended to be a politician at all, until a development project behind her home in Newton in 1997 that she says opened her eyes to a need for change in the city.

At the time, Sangiolo was a new mother and new to Newton. She and her neighbors opposed the development and signed a petition to protest it, but when she turned it over to her city councilors, they didn’t pay attention.

“We all signed a petition,” Sangiolo said. “We handed that to our then-elected officials, who took our petition, crinkled it up, and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.’ It was not the way to be represented.”

Sangiolo then resolved to run for office herself. She won narrowly, a victory that started a 20-year tenure on the city council.

“With my 18-month-old son in tow, I went door to door, I ran a race, and I won on a recount by 12 votes.”

Though the conditions of her first race were impromptu, Sangiolo already had years of environmental advocacy with the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation under her belt.

She went to Rutgers Law School and holds an undergraduate degree in political science from Barnard College.

“I think it was this one thing that showed me how important advocacy is to me, and I wanted to continue that I had the skills to be a great advocate,” Sangiolo said.

Today, Sangiolo works at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, providing assistance to people experiencing housing insecurity.

“I help individuals and families who are facing eviction and foreclosure and provide mediation assistance, as well as direct them to other types of assistance throughout the Commonwealth,” Sangiolo said.

State representative candidate Amy Sangiolo and her husband, John, attend the John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club Annual Gala on May 11, 2024. Photo by Bryan McGonigle

Sangiolo was born and raised in New Jersey by her mother, who was a Japanese immigrant and her father, who was a Chinese-American Air Force veteran. When she moved to Newton in 1995, she took her parents with her.

“It was not affordable then, either,” Sangiolo said. “I mean, certainly not the level it is now, but it was a struggle. We were able to put together enough money to buy a two-family, a rundown two-family, a fixer upper, which still needs fixing up.”

Though her parents eventually moved to Hawaii to escape the cold New England winters, Sangiolo said that the experience of raising children and taking care of her elderly parents made her familiar with the struggles many other Massachusetts families go through.

“I know how difficult it is,” Sangiolo said. “I know how hard it is for elders to access services. I know how hard it is for young parents to access childcare services.”

As an Asian-American woman and the first in her family to go to college, Sangiolo said she will represent people like her in a state house where those identities are underrepresented.

“I run the spectrum, which I think is really important as we face this critical time in our history,” Sangoiolo said.

In her long service as a city councilor, Sangiolo served as the vice president of the Council for two terms as well as chair of both the Programs and Services Committee and the Community Preservation Committee.

When it comes to housing, Sangiolo said that the state should use a multi-pronged approach, specifically through tenant protections.

“We need the right to counsel,” Sangiolo said. “We need to give municipalities the ability to adopt rent control if that’s something that they desire to do. We certainly need to make sure we strengthen our health and safety regulations.”

Sangiolo emphasized that the government must boost the supply of housing too, because she said waiting for the free market to create housing doesn’t work.“

“My people that I work with at the state can’t wait,” Sangiolo said. “They need the housing now. They’re living in their cars when they are evicted or foreclosed on.”

Former city councilor and current candidate for state representative Amy Sangiolo greets residents at her tent at the 2024 Newton Highlands Village Day. Photo by Bryan McGonigle

Sangiolo holds that bolstering transit is the best way to serve all the unique needs of Newton and Brookline.

“Newtonites pride themselves on the fact that we do have these unique villages, many of which have access to transit, which is very good,” Sangiolo said. “So encouraging more transit oriented development is great, but the only way that works is if you have reliable, frequent transit service.”

Sangiolo has already taken a leave of absence from her job and plans to work as a state representative full-time if elected.

“I’m someone who takes this position very seriously,” Sangiolo said. “I will be a full time legislator.”

Sangiolo says that her record of work for the government, as well as her dedication to advocacy, proves her qualification for the state office.

“I think it would be great for the residents of this district to have a known person who has worked for them in the past, and has continued to work for them even after I’ve left office,” Sangiolo said.