District 2 Race A Barometer Of Boston Politics

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Boston voters go to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in municipal elections. There’s a big race among seven candidates for the four at-large seats on the City Council.

There are also contests in four of the nine council districts themselves. One of the closest is in District 2, which encompasses South Boston, the South End and Chinatown, as well as a few precincts in Dorchester and Roxbury.

Suzanne Lee, Councilor Bill Linehan (Courtesy, City of Boston)
Suzanne Lee, Bill Linehan (Courtesy, City of Boston)

The outcome could serve as a barometer of Boston politics.

Pressing Palms, Pounding The Pavement

It’s not an unusual scene in Boston politics: Bill Linehan, the District 2 incumbent, is courting voters at a campaign luncheon for senior citizens in South Boston. He's lived in this neighborhood his whole life.

"Anything we can do to try and get you to the polls," Linehan says, "I know you all live right here now, but any of your friends, we have absentee ballots with us if anybody needs absentee ballots for one of your neighbors."

Linehan, who'd worked in various City Hall jobs for 20 years, was first elected to represent District 2 after the death of Councilor Jimmy Kelly in 2007. The seat has been held by a South Boston politician since the city’s first district elections in 1983.

Many in this neighborhood, Frances Owens among them, want to keep it that way.

"Bill Linehan’s done an awful lot for South Boston people," Owens says. "And, being a senior citizen, we have to be who’s gonna be for us, and we feel comfortable to have people from South Boston. I wouldn’t vote for anybody else but South Boston. If that’s being a little prejudiced, I can’t help it."

In this same room a week before, the incumbent's challenger, Suzanne Lee, stopped by. She beat Linehan by 4 percent in September's preliminary election.

"I think it will be a battle between Bill Linehan and Mrs. Lee," says resident John Kuhn, who says it's different from any other election he's seen here "because of the changing climate here in South Boston. A lot of the old families have died and the sons and daughters live outside the city, so they sell the property, a developer gets it, remodels it, makes it a condo and uh, they team up with the people in the South End."

Slightly more than half the registered voters in District 2 now live in the South End and other neighborhoods, including Chinatown.

Lee, who emigrated from China as a child, now lives in Chinatown. She's pounding the pavement throughout the district. On this day, Lee is on East 7th Street in South Boston.

"I think in all the neighborhoods that’s I’ve been to, people are saying the same thing, basically," Lee says. "They want good schools, they want access to city government, and they want a voice."

As Lee talks with young families, she touts her 35-year career as an educator and principal at Boston public schools.

Union Support, Fighting Biases

South Boston resident Paul Adams is volunteering with her campaign.

"I'm not anti-Bill Linehan, I’m pro-Suzanne Lee," Adams says, "because I think she brings more to the table with respect to working with people, you know, face to face."

As a principal, Lee butted heads with the Boston Teachers Union, which gave its endorsement to Linehan. But Lee has also lined up key union support, including United Auto Workers.

Both Lee and Linehan say the get-out-the-vote effort will be key on Tuesday. Linehan says while he expects to win votes from those who want to keep it a South Boston seat, he sees that as a double-edged sword.

"I do fight a bias," he says. "People think that because I’m from South Boston, I can’t represent certain parts of the district. And that’s my job, to uh, to win over that.”

Lee says her job is to win over people who see her as an outsider.

"Obviously, there are people who feel that no matter who the person is, they would rather see their own neighbor and somebody from their own background to stay in that seat," she says. "But there are also others who feel the results are more important, having a voice is more important."

On Tuesday District 2 voters will be choosing between the incumbent, a political insider, and the challenger, a political newcomer. South Boston could be the decider, as voters there cast 59 percent of the ballots in the preliminary election.

This program aired on November 4, 2011.

Delores Handy Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.



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