Ashmont's Joyce Linehan has become a key player in local politics
In the thick of his reelection battle last year, Gov. Deval Patrick dropped by Somerville’s Q Division Recording Studios. About 150 people were there, from the arts and entertainment world, and the nonprofit and for-profit sides of it.
And just last week, a similar crowd of 70 people from the same world of creative industries gathered at Eastern Standard restaurant in Kenmore Square for a fundraiser for City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley.
Both events had one thing in common: Ashmont Hill’s Joyce Linehan, who manages a public relations consulting company that specializes in the arts industry, helped put them together.
“Many of them hadn’t been in the same room as a politician before,” Linehan recalls of the Patrick event.
Linehan, who co-owns an independent record label, wasn’t always involved in politics.
While politics may have been in her blood – her grandfather and father were state representatives for Mission Hill – Linehan didn’t get fully drawn in until 2004, when President George W. Bush, a Texas Republican, was up for reelection. Her mother, Yvonne, disliked politics and started the Interim House, a halfway home for alcoholics in the 1970s, after watching her husband battle with alcoholism.
Linehan, who attended St. Brendan’s Elementary School, is now part of a small army of grassroots volunteers supporting progressive Democratic candidates, and viewed as an influencer in the neighborhood, with local political observers wondering whom she will back in the upcoming District 3 City Council race later this year. (“I may not. Maybe it’s perfectly okay for there to be an election that I’m not involved in somehow!” she quipped in an email.)
Her day jobs include running Ashmont Records, which she co-founded with Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers band, and Ashmont Media, the public relations firm that includes First Night Boston, the Boston Book Festival, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Boston Conservatory, the Fuller Craft Museum and Opera Boston, among others, as clients.
Linehan, 48, got her start as editor in chief of the High School Times, a syndicated newspaper by and for New England high school students. She would put together shows and benefits to help the financially strapped paper, and from there she moved on to overseeing the careers of the Smithereens and Lemonheads, negotiating worldwide recording and merchandising contracts, and as a local concert promoter. In the 1980s, she stayed out of campaigns and elections. “It was Reagan and Thatcher and I was a punk rocker,” Linehan says.
In the 1990s, she identified unsigned talent for Sub Pop, a label owned by Warner Music Group. It was there that she first met Joe Pernice, with whom she would eventually team up to create Ashmont Records.
In 2004, the Pernice Brothers toured to help U.S. Sen. John Kerry, that year’s Democratic presidential nominee, and Linehan remembers sending out an email about it to a list of 6,000 subscribers. “Oh my God did we get some hate mail over it” from some of the band’s more conservative fans, she said. “Living around here, you live in a bubble,” she adds with a smile, her hands resting on laptop with a bumper sticker declaring “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” a line frequently used after Massachusetts was the only state not to vote for President Richard Nixon in 1972. Linehan printed up the stickers with the familiar phrase after the 2010 midterms, when most of the nation appeared consumed by a red Republican tide and Massachusetts stayed deeply blue, with Democrats retaining all statewide offices.
She was recruited to Gov. Patrick’s first campaign in 2006 by Jim Keefe, a principal and president at Trinity Financial, a real estate development company. “He was just such a charismatic candidate” with similar values, Linehan says.
The grassroots activists stayed united after Patrick’s historic 2006 election. “We made a concerted effort to keep it together,” Linehan says.
Linehan, who also puts together the Dorchester Speaker’s Forum, has volunteered for an array of local elected officials: state Rep. Marty Walsh, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano’s unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2009, and John Connolly’s first run at a City Council At-Large seat in 2005. She hopes that her “dream campaign” will materialize: Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who is tangling with Washington D.C. Republicans over her Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is reportedly mulling a run against Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
“Whatever issue she’s involved with, she deeply cares about, whether it’s the arts, or the recovery community, or politics,” Rep. Walsh said. “When you get her support, it’s not light support. It’s all the way in. And from what I know of Joyce, that’s how she lives her life. I’m very proud to have her as a friend.”
When Savin Hill’s Michael Christopher, who works in the governor’s Executive Office of Public Safety, was considering a run for the District 3 City Council seat last month, she handled his press relations. He ultimately decided against a run, preferring to focus on his current job.
Christopher said Linehan has a blend of both old and new Dorchester, and her work is getting noticed. “They know she’s not doing it to get ahead,” said Christopher, who worked with Linehan on Patrick’s reelection campaign. “She’s doing it because she believes in progressive candidates. Her name’s getting out there, that’s for sure.”