Soto, Valley eager to improve communication, inclusiveness
By Zach Laird
“How can I make the voices of my people heard?” It’s a question that pushed Neily Soto to jump into the ring of local politics and fight for change in Methuen.
Both Soto, 43, and Patricia Valley, 53, were elected to City Council on Nov. 7, making them the first two Hispanics – male or female – to serve the city in this capacity. Soto represents the East District, while Valley was elected in the West. As their Jan. 3 public swearing-in ceremony approaches, both have been busy planning, coordinating and communicating with their fellow councilors and constituents on how to inject a new energy into Methuen politics.
“Diverse residents feel disconnected and excluded, raising concerns about inclusivity in decision-making,” Valley noted. “Without diverse representation, essential perspectives are missed, hindering fair and comprehensive decision-making. Increasing council diversity is crucial for inclusive policies that reflect and benefit everyone.”
“I just want everybody to feel like I’m accessible, regardless if you’re disabled or minority or a veteran,” said Soto. “It’s about looking at how Methuen does business with its constituents, and how we can become better.”
“For a town that’s roughly 40 percent Latino, it’s great that they’ve been elected,” Mayor Neil Perry said. “I think it’s important that everybody in Methuen feels like there’s somebody on the City Council that they can look up to.”
Returning At-Large City Councilor D.J. Beauregard added, “I feel encouraged that they ran and excited that they’ve been elected. I think it’s important that new people get into politics to help push the city forward.”
Valley, who came to the United States in 2000 from the Dominican Republic and describes herself as family-oriented, has developed a perspective on politics in Methuen that has spanned decades. She has worked in real estate across Massachusetts for over 20 years.
“As one of Methuen’s first Hispanic city councilors, this opportunity is incredibly meaningful to me,” Valley said. “I’m passionate about uniting our community, creating fair policies and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard. I am dedicated to actively listening and tirelessly working to meet the needs of all residents.”
Soto, who was born in Methuen, feels her call to politics stems from a lifetime of observing the way Methuen conducts business.
“It’s about making myself accessible not just to my colleagues, but also to my constituents,” Soto said. She prioritized communication as a key, with the goal of creating an atmosphere where new voices will speak up during key discussions.
“I was born in Methuen, so I get it,” she said. “Whether it’s a mom that feels like she identifies with me, or a business owner, or even one of my fellow colleagues, establishing that connection and dialogue is huge for me.”
With both women having roots in real estate, one of the first issues they want to tackle is the housing of immigrants and the homeless. Each expressed concerns regarding dozens of families whom the state placed at the Days Inn — a temporary solution to an ongoing and unavoidable problem, as Valley puts it.
Soto added, “What people often overlook is that it’s actually a smaller percentage of migrant families that are seeking shelter there. The rest are homeless, or people who come from battered families, and nobody has spoken up about this —so it’s about helping people better themselves.
“The same goes for everybody,” she continued. “When you speak to a family of five people living out of a hotel room while their daughter goes to Methuen High … when people tell me they want to provide better for their families, I believe them.”
Issues like housing, maintaining economic sustainability, and connecting with constituents are the major tentpoles of Soto and Valley’s plans as councilors.
“For Methuen, it’s about establishing a better commercial tax base,” Soto stated. “What we should be doing is educating our constituents on how to bring in other industries that can bring more money into the city.”
“At the end of the day, we need to work toward Methuen opening up new businesses,” said Valley. “And then, together, we need to collaborate on how to help the unemployed transition and become viable again in society. Helping them find jobs and getting settled is how we should start.”
Valley also zoned in on the community’s relationship with minorities, saying, “The City of Methuen has taken steps to address communication barriers with minority communities within the city. Creating a dedicated DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) role and actively engaging with these communities is commendable. Moreover, the survey conducted a year and a half ago indicates notable progress.
However, there remains ongoing work to enhance communication outlets. While having bilingual employees across all departments is crucial, effective communication isn’t solely about language; it also involves understanding and respecting various cultures.”
“My goal is to feel like people’s middle link between the public and politics,” Valley said. “I want them to know I’m approachable, my phone line and e-mail are always open — I just want to feel like the voice of the people.”