Longtime community organizer Leonard M. Lee Sr., 63, threw his hat in the ring for the District 4 seat that will be left vacant by Andrea Campbell on Wednesday. It's his first time running for office, although he's been politically active for decades.“I get more done by not being a politician than being a politician," he said. "I know city councillors who don’t do a third of what I do.”
Lee lives in Dorchester's Melville-Park neighborhood, not far from where former District 4 councillor Charles Yancey, who held the seat from 1983 until he was defeated by Campbell in 2015.
In 2019, Lee was named to the Boston Parks Commission at-large acting as general manager for the Melnea Cass Recreation Complex in Roxbury. He is charged with overseeing the operation of Melnea Cass Recreation Complex, Roxbury Heritage State Park, and Dillaway Thomas House. Lee has also served as executive director at a number of nonprofits including Dorchester Neighborhood Service Center and the Roxbury YMCA— among other organizations.
Lee said he was moved to run for office after an incident in 2019 when a 19-year-old was shot and killed by police outside his house. The young man was a suspect in a shooting that happened minutes earlier at nearby Town Field. Lee, who was home, pleaded with the man to drop his gun. Instead, the young man fired on police, who returned fire.
“I was that close to this man that I could see the white of his eyes,” Lee said.
“The police gave him an opportunity to put the gun down at least five times, and eventually they had to shoot him,” Lee said. “It was very emotional. We were all crying.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Lee has become known as “the mask guy” for handing out over 100,000 masks for free to people in His friends on Facebook donated money after he put out a call for help and eventually the effort snowballed into something so large that he had to acquire a U-Haul unit to house all the masks.
“For me, masks should be free as the air we breathe,” Lee said. “If you don’t have a mask you could die.”
Lee, who previously served as the director of the Division of Violence and Injury Prevention at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said today he was still working on putting his campaign together around the theme: “It’s about time.”
“To be honest with you, I was just tired and tired… but when this situation came up I said I don’t want to run city-wide, I want to run in my district,” he said.
Lee said he felt that while in office Campbell “did the best she could do,” but knew he could do more to further some of the work that she had started.
“I hate talking about myself,” he said laughing. “That’s the hardest thing about running this campaign.”
Lee describes himself as a proud father of three, an urban beekeeper and a “person who cares about the community unconditionally.”
“Maybe I’m crazy, maybe I am, but I’ve been blessed,” he said. “Some people say I’m arrogant, I’m arrogant for my community.”
If elected, Lee said that combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing vaccine distribution would be his priority. “That trickles down to everything: economics, public health, violence, all of it!”
Lee does not plan to spend too long at City Hall.
“I’ll do two terms and I’m done. My goal is to mentor young people who want that job.”
The field for District 4 continues to develop. Several candidates have said they plan to run and have formed committees, including William Dickerson III, Jacob Urena, Josette Williams, Brian Worrell and Joel Richards. Former state Rep. Evandro Carvalho, who now lives in District 4, is also mulling a run for either District 4 or citywide council, according to sources close to him.
Watch for more coverage of this developing field of candidates in next week's Reporter. And follow @LitDrop for complete coverage of the dynamic City Hall transition and election this year.