Linehan, Jackson face challenges in district races

Voters in Districts 2 and 7, both of which include parts of Dorchester, will head to the polls on Sept. 27 to pick the candidates who will advance to November’s final election.

Incumbents in both districts are facing challengers for the first time since winning special elections: In District 2, former teacher Suzanne Lee and South Boston resident Bob Ferrara are challenging City Councillor Bill Linehan. District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson, who won a special election earlier this year, is clashing with three challengers, including Fenway activist Sheneal Parker  former state representative and perennial candidate Althea Garrison, and Roy Owens, who is also a frequent candidate.

With no city-wide or statewide contests on the preliminary ballot, the races have been sleepy affairs so far.

District 2, in particular, is lacking the intensity of last year’s election for state representative, which occurred after Brian Wallace, a South Boston Democrat, said he wouldn’t be running for another term.

First elected in 2007 after the death of Councillor James Kelly, Linehan says he has taken a number of “independent” stands, and pointed to several wins in the last two years: Helping keep the Roger Clap Elementary School open as an innovation school, preventing the closure of the Tynan Community Center, and opposing the proposed closure of any branch libraries. All of the closures were Menino administration initiatives.

“We’re doing all the things we should be doing, making phone calls and talking to neighbors,” Linehan said of his campaign efforts.

His opponents are, too. Lee, who was also a principal at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, has picked up the backing of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts and the Greater Boston Young Democrats, as well as DotOUT, a civic group of local activists in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

On a chilly Friday evening, Lee was door-knocking on Mayhew and St. Margaret streets. “Everybody should be challenged,” the former teacher said, leaving notes written on her campaign literature for voters who weren’t home. “It keeps our democracy vibrant.”

Not everyone on those streets, widely viewed as Linehan territory, agreed. John Lynch emerged from his home and puffed away at his pipe as Lee made her pitch: Thirty-five years as a teacher and principal have given her the ability to bring people together.

“What happened to Linehan?” he asked.

He’s still running, she said.

“I’ll probably vote for him,” Lynch said, before glancing at her campaign literature. “God bless you. I hope you make a good showing.”

At another home, one man whose wife is a teacher asked Lee if any unions had endorsed her. “They want to see how I do in the primary,” Lee said.

District 2, anchored in South Boston, has Dorchester’s northern-most precincts, including parts of Blessed Mother Teresa/St. Margaret’s Parish and the Polish Triangle. The district also includes parts of the South End and Chinatown.

Ferrara, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2007 special election, charges that Linehan is not as involved with the district as he should be, and is not attending enough community meetings or meeting constituent needs. “The reason why I’m running is basically because I think I can do a better job than the incumbent city councillor,” he told the Reporter.

An open question is how much help, if any, Linehan will receive from Mayor Thomas Menino. One City Hall insider noted that Linehan, a former Menino aide, receives criticism from two sides: Some critics feel he’s “the mayor’s guy” while some Menino supporters feel Linehan didn’t do enough to help out the mayor during the 2009 race when Menino was up against former City Councillor At-Large Michael Flaherty of South Boston.

Regardless, he is the favorite to win in the preliminary and the final election, according to local observers, as is District 7’s Jackson.

District 7 is largely based in Roxbury, with precincts in Dorchester’s Ward 7, Ward 8, and Ward 13. The district also includes a pair of precincts in the South End and three precincts in the Fenway area.

Since winning the special election in March with 82 percent of an 8 percent voter turnout, Jackson said he has “hit the ground running.”

“We’ve continued to connect with people and hopefully those connections will show,” he said, citing efforts to hire dozens of people at a local Popeye’s, proposing legislation regulating knife sales in local stores and neighborhood walks with police.

Parker, a single mother and former teacher, helped create neighborhood playgrounds, preserved affordable housing and negotiated a $35,000 annual commitment for a Fenway employment training program, according to her website.

She did not return to a phone call seeking comment.