Candidate Chat: Bill Linehan
David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for another term as district councilor?
Bill Linehan: For me personally, based on all the investment I’ve given to the city, I want to be here for this transition. I want to be here to offer experience, stability, and guide not only new members of the council but hopefully to be in a position to advise the new mayor also.
Some people think the council will be at its most influential in the next couple of years, because instead of a mayor who has consolidated his power, shall we say, we’ll have a freshman mayor who the council may be able to work with differently. Do you think there’s anything to that?
Yes I do, and I think it’s a great opportunity for the council and for the city as a whole. The council in the aggregate better represents the city than the mayor does, because there are 13 different people from all walks of life. To empower it during this period is really important. Because Tom Menino was there for 20 years, he created a culture on the council based on his relationship over the years with city councilors. Only one member, [Charles] Yancey, has been there prior to him being mayor. So he’s really shaped the culture of the relationship. It would be nice to see something new, and see how that pans out.
Some critics, including me, have said that district councilors have ended up being little more than constituent-service advocates, as the go-between making sure the mayor’s departments take care of things. With a different balance of power, what more can you do to improve your district?
That was the perception, because of the mayor and his ability to drive impressions out to the media—that it was all him. But the city council has played a significant role, especially in economic development. Sixty percent of all the development in the city goes on in my district, and I’ve played a significant role in helping guide and shape that. I chair the economic development committee, so I was in a position to help influence, especially in the downturn, the Liberty Mutual project that kept that worldwide headquarters here in Boston. I was able to drive and influence legislation that kept Vertex at Fan Pier. We can play more of a leadership role in this time of transition.
We just had an election with a South Boston candidate, Nick Collins, running against a candidate in that case from Dorchester, and there was some disappointment or even resentment about Southie “losing” that state senate seat. What’s your feeling about people in Southie who might be looking at your race the same way?
Well of course the district is changing, and it has changed, and it will continue to change. The dynamic in Boston now is that 20 to 30 percent of the neighborhood will change over a five-year period, regularly from now on. So there’s a different way to apply politics to that. In the senate race, there were three really good candidates who resonated really well with the voters. It was very close, and the voters were heard. Redistricting 12 years ago had changed the makeup of that district, and if you’re not an incumbent, like Jack Hart was, there was always the possibility that somebody from outside South Boston could win the seat. In the last two years I’ve done a considerable amount of work, and people throughout the district have gotten to know me and understand the way I work and what I have to offer. And, I don’t live in a cocoon. I’ve worked in the city for 25 years and I’ve adjusted and changed paths and have been quite fluid when necessary in dealing with the constituencies of the city. So I feel quite comfortable in this dynamic of an ever-changing city and the transition of government.
You mention redistricting. You took some criticism in chairing the committee on redistricting last year, when people thought you were trying to use that position to help yourself. How do you respond?
I was given the position by the [council] president, and in the end, the map ended up being a good plan for redistricting. I don’t feel that at any time I tried to use the position—because I knew I’d be watched very closely as the chair—to try to make it more beneficial for me. However, I wasn’t going to let other members or other political entities bully me because I might be afraid to stand up for the equality of the districts and the criteria that was developed during our process. I took some criticism for that, but in the end, I don’t think that any of my colleagues felt that the map was not a quality map. We all had to make concessions. I had to give up three precincts in Ward 7, which is huge, and a precinct in Ward 8.
In another closely watched performance with potential for criticism, what reactions did you get from hosting the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast for the first time? [Linehan laughs] As a Southie guy, was that a thrill for you?
Yes, it was. It was an honor and a thrill. I had been there as early as the ’60s when it was at the Captains Room, so—if you’re a pol from Southie you think, how would you handle that some day, if it was thrust upon you? And I never imagined it would. But fortunately for me, I have an entertainment background, and I felt quite comfortable under the lights and on the stage. It was really handling the personalities of our collected politicians and elected officials. That part was fun, and challenging, and actually the reviews were good from most people. Where in life do you get to go onstage, on live TV, for two-and-a-half hours, and then go march in a parade where a million people will tell you what they think of it?
I want to ask you about the parade, but first tell me: What is your favorite Irish song?
I sing a song called “Dear Old Donegal,” and that one seems to get people really going, clapping, and feeling good about celebrating being Irish.
OK, now about the parade. If you were to make a prediction, what are the odds that by next year they will have found a way to work things out so that LGBT and other excluded groups will be able to participate?
I don’t want to predict. I’ve been in discussion with some of the folks, and I’m willing to talk with the principals of the parade, to see about how the parade adjusts moving forward. It’s not just about who participates, but how it fits in the community. You can get a million people in there, and it happens every year, for a residential neighborhood. So there are some logistical issues as well as some policy issues that need to be addressed. We’re going to meet with parade organizers. Because it’s their parade, not ours.
Do you have any thoughts or comments you want to make about Suzanne Lee, who is running against you again after the two of you had a very close race two years ago?
Suzanne Lee is a hard worker, a good campaigner, and she’s a political activist, so she’s determined. I recognize that. But in a practical sense, she’s a [school] principal. Principals are very important, and if she was the principal where my grandkids were going to school, I’d be very happy. But I think I’m a better city councilor and would be a better city councilor than her.
Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.