Former school principal Suzanne Lee said Wednesday that she will again run for the Second District seat on the Boston City Council, setting up a rematch with Councilor Bill Linehan, who beat her by just 97 votes in 2011.
Her candidacy is expected to ignite another close race to represent the district, which includes South Boston and parts of the South End and downtown. Lee said she is confident that she has put in enough work during the last two years to bridge the narrow gap that cost her the seat.
“Last time was the first time that people beyond my school got to know who I am,” Lee, the former principal of Josiah Quincy School, said in an interview. “People need to get to know you, and that does take time.”
The Second District seat has always been held by a man from South Boston since the council moved to geographically based districts in the mid-1980s, first by James Kelly and then, following Kelly’s death in 2007, by Linehan.
Lee, who lives in Chinatown, would be the first councilor from the district to break that mold if she wins. The election is Nov. 5.
“It’s reflective of the demographic change throughout the city,” said Lee, who recalled being one of the few Chinese-American students in her classes in Boston elementary schools. “The city has changed a lot, and this district definitely has changed a lot.”
While there was speculation that Lee might seek an at-large council seat, some political observers, including Linehan, said they are not surprised that she is back for a district rematch after losing by less than one percentage point, with about 10,000 ballots cast.
“She’s a longtime activist who is retired with a good pension,” Linehan said. “She’s got the time on her hands, so why not? We’ve been expecting her candidacy and are prepared for her.”
Before joining the council, Linehan served as special assistant to the city’s chief operating officer and director of operations for the city’s Parks Department. The councilor cited his work leading the Redistricting Committee, which redrew the city’s political districts after much debate last year, as a major accomplishment since defeating Lee.
The council ultimately rejected Linehan’s proposed redistricting map, which would have shifted some neighborhoods aligned with Lee out of the Second District. Still, the map that won approval maintained much of Linehan’s South Boston base.
“The fact that not much has changed in this district and that it was so close last time around, makes this a very credible challenge,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Watanabe said Lee’s candidacy might dissuade others from running.
“What you’re talking about here is two very powerful figures who’ve proven they can win votes in this district,” he said. “There’s not much room for other candidates.”
While Wednesday’s announcement was Lee’s first official campaign act, she has spent the last few months aggressively raising money. She had almost $39,000 in her campaign account at the end of February, records show, while Linehan had just over $5,000.
“I believe in building a movement,” said Lee, who added that she has spent the last two years expanding her support across the district. “I have always been a community organizer, and running for office is a continuation of that work.”
Both candidates said they welcome the rematch. Lee said that even if she fails to overcome Linehan a second time, the race will provide a vigorous debate of the issues.
Linehan said a tightly contested race would be better for the victor. “Who ever remembers the blowouts?” he said with a laugh. “Keep ’em close races, and they’ll remember you.”