District 7 campaign focuses on community

 On Thursday incumbent District 7 council candidate Tito Jackson (right) greeted Edward Allen at Egleston Square.
On Thursday incumbent District 7 council candidate Tito Jackson (right) greeted Edward Allen at Egleston Square.KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/Boston Globe

For Tito Jackson, District 7 city councilor, the campaign never seems to end.

Tomorrow’s City Council vote will be his fourth time on the ballot for a council election in 11 months, leaving him little opportunity to stop and, well, govern.

But in Jackson’s mind, the marathon of campaigning is a good thing. When done well, he said, governance and campaigning are the same thing.

“I think you should always be focused on staying in the job,’’ he said. “You do that by having an open door and being accessible to constituents.’’

Challenger Sheneal Parker (right) met with Eyrekr Gunter at Dudley Square.
Challenger Sheneal Parker (right) met with Eyrekr Gunter at Dudley Square.KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/Boston Globe

Jackson’s challenger, Sheneal Parker, is working to keep him from getting that chance to stay in the job. A Boston public school teacher fresh out of Emerge Massachusetts, a political leadership training program, Parker, 41, is looking to snag the seat with her platform of economic development and violence reduction through building alliances in the community.

“I’ve been doing this stuff for years,’’ said Parker, a Fenway resident. “Now, I want to take it from a small neighborhood to a bigger neighborhood.


Parker’s history in the community includes holding positions with several organizations: former president of the Fenway Community Development Corporation, member of the Children’s Hospital Community Advisory Board, member of the community task force at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

She has garnered an endorsement from the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.

By all indications, Jackson is the favorite in the district, which encompasses parts of Roxbury, Lower Roxbury, Fenway, and the South End: In the Sept. 27 preliminary election, he won 76 percent of the vote, while Parker advanced with just 11 percent.

Jackson’s popularity may have much to do with his pedigree: His adoptive father was Herb Kwaku Zulu Jackson, a prominent community organizer.

Or it could have something to do with his predecessor, Chuck Turner, convicted of bribery and expelled from the City Council last year.


Jackson said Turner’s legacy helped, not hindered, his first months in office.

“Honestly, the expectation people have in District 7 is great constituent services and advocacy for the things we need and deserve,’’ Jackson said. “I know [Turner], I know the work he did, and there’s a great deal to build on.’’

In his half-year in office, Jackson said, he has kept his focus on jobs and education. He is quick to point out his role in keeping three community centers open and the work he did connecting local residents with 54 openings at a local Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

Jackson has also been building his acumen in Boston’s elite political circles. At a recent event for another council campaign, Jackson schmoozed, regaled supporters with stories about his Aunt Bertha’s cooking, and cracked jokes about his weight. Then he transitioned seamlessly into talk of the legislation he sponsored to raise the school dropout age from 16 to 18.

But Jackson must navigate Boston’s political arena, as well as deal with meat-and-potatoes issues that concern his constituents. At a recent meeting about a parcel of land in Roxbury that will be up for sale to developers, Jackson was a target of one man’s concerns about whether the new development would create opportunities for local people.

“What are the chances of them getting employment in their own communities?’’ the man asked. “These kids need jobs, and, yes, I’m talking to you, Councilor Jackson,’’ he said, pointing to the politician in the front row.


Jackson, momentarily taken aback, nodded his head. “I hear you, brother,’’ he said, assuaging the man.

Later, Jackson reflected on the interaction.

“He was saying that he holds me accountable for getting jobs in the community,’’ Jackson said. “I accept and embrace that level of accountability.’’

On the subject of his competitor, Jackson was diplomatic.

“Sheneal is very impressive, and she has a great deal of passion,’’ Jackson said. “I wish her well.’’ He added that he holds the view “that we’re not running against one another; we’re running for something.’’

Parker said she hopes to be the politically independent face of District 7. She wants to make sure the buck stops with constituents, not Mayor Thomas M. Menino, she said.

“Tito’s a great guy, but what I bring to the table is community experience,’’ Parker said. “The district needs someone who’s going to fight for them and who understands the issues the community is facing.’’

Standing in the median of Dudley Square at 7:30 a.m. on a recent day, Parker was an engaging figure, calling out people’s first names as they honked from their cars, persuading them to have a conversation with her in near-freezing temperatures as they idled at a traffic light.

“Sometimes people roll their windows up,’’ she said. “You’ve just got to be really, really nice to them.’’

She said her primary concerns are violence, jobs, and education.


As a councilor, Parker said, she would build alliances between community organizations. She wants to hire a staff person to focus on bringing jobs to the community. And she hopes to address quality-of-life issues.

While Parker lacks Boston-born-and-bred credentials - she was born in the Bronx and raised in Beaufort, S.C. - she has lived in Boston since she started as an undergraduate at Northeastern more than two decades ago.

She has experienced the worst of Boston, she said: 14 years ago, the father of her son was killed in a bout of gun violence. Finding her way as a single mother, she said, propelled her to become involved in her community and earn two master’s degrees from Suffolk University.

“What I want for him,I want for everyone,’’ Parker said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.