It’s been just two years since incumbent Bill Linehan narrowly defeated former school principal Suzanne Lee to hold onto the District 2 seat on the Boston City Council, and even in that short time the face of the district has changed dramatically. Stretching from the Prudential Center to Castle Island, it includes some of Boston’s most iconic neighborhoods — South Boston, Chinatown, and much of the South End. Yet towers are rising in Chinatown. Tech firms are migrating to a waterfront where parking lots are giving way to glass and steel. A building boom has turned once-gritty blocks around the Broadway T stop into a destination for young professionals and ushered in what was once unthinkable: the first Starbucks in Southie. This dynamic district needs equally dynamic representation on the City Council, and the candidate who can provide that is Suzanne Lee.
Up to now, Lee's signature professional achievements lay in turning around the Baldwin School and in leading the high-achieving Josiah Quincy School. In that role, Lee got firsthand insight into what it takes to push urban schools forward. As a Chinatown community activist, she gained experience in organizing people around a cause. Her dogged attitude is a considerable political asset. Her 97-vote loss to Linehan in 2011 has only motivated her to campaign harder this time, especially in areas that her opponent carried easily.
For his part, Linehan has worked in a solid, low-key manner on behalf of the district, but the former Menino administration official's moments in the public eye have been more problematic. His highest-profile role was as chair of the council's redistricting committee — through which he tried unsuccessfully to take some of Lee's strongest precincts out of District 2. More recently, Linehan got into an unnecessary dustup with newly elected state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry over who should host the traditional Saint Patrick's Day breakfast in South Boston. Linehan's effort to exert control was at best impolitic and at worst backward-looking.
Linehan hasn't, to his credit, sought to constrain the rapid development occurring in the district. Lee has argued for a more comprehensive approach toward planning. There's a danger such a process could become a way to shut down new construction in a city that's chronically short on housing. Yet it's a sensible approach if it leads to more uniform rules, cheaper market-rate housing, and fewer neighborhood fights over individual projects.
Throughout her career, Lee has shown both great energy and reliable common sense — two qualities that will help this rapidly transforming district.