Along with Bob Ferrara and incumbent Bill Linehan, Suzanne Lee is one of three candidates throwing down in the District 2 City Council Race. In preparation for an article about the race, I contacted all three candidates with a series of questions and Lee was the only one to respond. I assume that this is because Linehan was too busy pretending to work for a living, while Ferrara pretends to actually try to win an election.
After reading Lee’s responses, I realized that her answers didn’t quite fit the article I was writing. So instead, I figured I would just post the whole unedited Q&A here:
How do you feel headed into September’s preliminary election?
I feel great. The thing that has really kept my energy up and driven me along this campaign is my conversations with people. I’ve personally knocked over 2,000 doors and made more than that many phone calls and my dedicated volunteers have helped my campaign knock on nearly 8,000 doors and make well over 12,000 phone calls. And the reactions have been great. People are happy that they have a choice – its what democracy is all about. And people really do believe that our city can do a lot better, especially when it comes to education.
I also think that as a first time candidate, we’ve done a fantastic job at fundraising (we’ve raised $83,000 so far), which I believe is because of the vast amount of people who’ve seen my work over the past 35 years and know of my record of results. I’ve received contributions from over 660 individual donors, many of which are small dollar donations. And that is what touches me the most — not any total sum of money — but rather, how many small donations I’ve received from regular working people who believe in my message and truly want the type of leadership that I can bring to the Boston City Council.
What role has social media played in your campaign?
I believe social media has played a great role in getting people information about my campaign. I maintain a twitter account, facebook page and flickr page so that people can both find out information about my candidacy as well as follow me on the campaign trail. I believe that we must do a better job of ensuring that everyone in the district can get information in the medium that they use — whether that means print media, social media, email, or by maintaining a presence in community meetings, our local schools, and in living rooms across the district. This is also the reason why my website is trilingual (English, Spanish and Chinese) and I have campaign literature in all three languages as well. (NOTE: Our website launches trilingual tomorrow, Friday September 16th – so by the time you write the story, it will be live)
We need leadership who puts effort into being accessible to everyone. To be truly accessible to the diversity of the district you have to recognize that its not one-size-fits-all. That’s how I would run my City Council office, because I believe ensuring that everyone has equal access to city services and information as well as engaging them proactively to take part in decision making is essential if we are to make Boston better.
It seems like District 2 tends to be treated as the South Boston Council seat. Do you think that the non-South Boston portion of the district has representation?
For as long as District 2 has contained the precincts that currently make-up the district, the councilor has come from South Boston. So its not surprising that some treat it that way. But I don’t believe that a councilor or elected official has to be from a neighborhood to represent it properly. At the Josiah Quincy School where i was principal for 10 years, we had children from all over the city and I worked to make sure that every single child in my building received exactly what he or she needed to achieve in the classroom. My 35 years experience working in schools all over Boston and educating children from all sorts of backgrounds has proven to me that when we all come together — no matter who you are or where you’re from — and we make decisions with everyone’s input, we always come to a better solution.
How do the needs of the non-South Boston neighborhoods differ form that of South Boston?
There are certainly specific issues block-to-block and neighborhood-to-neighborhood. For instance, in the Old Dover neighborhood of the South End, the crime that surrounds the Pine Street Inn is a major concern for residents. In Chinatown, one of the big issues is that we are fighting for a branch library. But these are not so different from issues in South Boston, such as the crime that surrounds the Andrew Square area near the methadone clinic, or the residents’ push to build an arts and cultural center. The thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve stood at doorsteps and in living rooms from Fort Point Channel to Dorchester, from South Boston to Bay Village, from Chinatown to South End, is that everyone wants the same things: They want great schools for their children, access to good jobs, to be able to afford to keep living in the city as prices seem to skyrocket, and to have safe and thriving neighborhoods.
There has been plenty of discussion of Ayanna Pressley possibly being the last female on the council. Do you feel slighted by this representation?
I believe that the Boston City Council absolutely must have women’s voices in its membership. I’m proud do be endorsed by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus and am a very passionate advocate for electing women candidates to public office. Beyond that belief and passion, I can only speak about the message of my campaign, which is about proactive leadership, results in reforming our schools, and a commitment to increasing transparency and accessibility in city government, and not merely that I am a woman.
From the beginning, Bob Ferrara has said that he was running specifically to oppose Linehan as being subservient to Mayor Menino. What are your thoughts on this view?
I have a lot of respect for both Bill Linehan and Bobby Ferrara. With that said, I can’t really speak on the message my opponents are using on their campaigns. My campaign is concentrating on listening to voters, at their doors and on the phone. In my schools I always made sure education was about the children and parents, and not just about the teachers, principals or school committee. Curriculum is only part of what can make a school successful– the rest has to come from bringing in input from everyone and finding the way the school can work best for its children. In that same way, Boston needs to make government work better for people. And we can’t do that without listening to them — going to them — not just waiting for them to call their councilor’s office, but engaging them, and bringing everyone together and working together to build a better future for Boston.
If you do not make it past the preliminary election, will you vote for Bob Ferrara, Bill Linehan, or none of the above?
I have to honestly say that right now all of my efforts are put towards running the best campaign possible for the preliminary election on September 27th. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be on the phones and on the streets all over the district talking to voters from now until then, and then I’ll be ready to keep working after the 27th if I move on.
With education as the centerpiece of your campaign, do you think helps or hinders your efforts to be associated with a single issue?
I don’t see myself as a single issue candidate. For over 35 years I’ve been a leader in our communities, bringing people together and helping new residents, immigrants, young people, seniors, and working families have a voice in local government. In 1975, I organized the Chinese Parents Association, so that the Chinese community had a voice during the busing era. Three years later, I brought people together to form the Chinese Progressive Association, which over the last 3 decades has played a pivotal role in standing up to police brutality, organizing garment workers to obtain bilingual job retraining so they can get back to work, fighting for affordable housing throughout Boston, and boosting voter turnout and civic engagement in Chinatown. I also collaborated with the Boston Foundation to address persistent poverty in our neighborhoods. I’ve spent decades fighting to make sure that ordinary people have a say in the decisions that effect their community and ensuring that everyone has equal access and opportunity to succeed.
That being said, I do believe that most people in this city want to improve our public education system. And I am a candidate who’s done it. I’ve taken on tough fights, and I’ve gotten results. I took over one of Boston’s lowest-performing schools and in just 4 years made it a nationally recognized model for school reform. I also served as principal of the Josiah Quincy School for 10 years, which was named one of the best public schools in Massachusetts during my tenure. A quality public education system is the foundation of our democracy and I know that good schools build strong communities. I believe that if we can educate our children to be successful, provide them with non-school enrichment programs so they stay off the streets, and train them to compete in a 21st century global economy, we can make Boston the best it can be.