Joyce Linehan: The Decider

She convinced Elizabeth Warren to run for Senate and helped Marty Walsh become mayor. But will the former punk-rock promoter ever take center stage?

After Patrick’s election, Linehan continued to organize for Democratic candidates, including U.S. Congressman Mike Capuano in his failed bid for the late Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat. In 2011, though, she created a candidate. Republican senators were threatening to block then-Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren’s appointment as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Insiders whispered that if Republicans wouldn’t approve Warren, a suitable punishment might be to run Warren for Senate against Scott Brown. On May 13 of that year, Linehan tweeted, “Elizabeth Warren: If you’re listening—I will knock on doors until my hands bleed if you’ll run for the U.S. Senate.” Months later, on a Sunday morning in August, Linehan received a phone call. Warren was considering a run. Could Linehan organize a meeting at her house? “When?” she asked, thinking she’d have a few weeks. “Tomorrow night,” came the answer. In 36 hours, Linehan had 70 people in her living room. “And there were about 50 or 60 people,” she said, “who were pissed off because they couldn’t make it on such short notice.”

And so it came to pass that Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign began in Joyce Linehan’s living room. Warren credits the crowd with raising issues that would become touchstones of her campaign: education, Social Security, standing up for women. “There were tears, people begging her to run,” Linehan recalled.

“It was after that meeting,” said Warren, “that I thought, If running for office is like this, I want to do it. Not, Can I do this?, which had been my question going in. I came out with this answer: I want to do this.”

Linehan remains a trusted adviser to Warren. “What Joyce made clear to me,” said Warren, “is that what we think of as issues—big national issues—are very personal. They’re one-on-one. When I stood in Joyce’s living room, and people asked about Social Security, it wasn’t an abstract question. It was: ‘What happens to my family? What happens to my neighbors?’ We stay in touch, we talk about student-loan issues, the big banks, music, innovation here in the commonwealth, schools. I never visit with Joyce that I don’t walk away having learned something.”


On a balmy night in August, the parking lot of Elks Lodge #10, off Morrell Street in West Roxbury, was packed. Inside, 150 voters had gathered for a meet-the-candidate event called “Mondays with Marty.” At the front of the room, Walsh ran down his big topics: schools, jobs, housing. In the back row, Linehan tweeted like mad—as Marty. As she typed, the candidate’s @marty_walsh account sprung to life: “In my administration, the arts will be elevated to a cabinet-level position. . . . We will bring voc tech to every high school in Boston. . . . Microunits are only PART of a housing solution. We need Workforce Housing. That’s how we stabilize neighborhoods.”

Such was the mind meld between Marty Walsh and Joyce Linehan in the summer and fall of 2013. Their roots are deep: Walsh knew Yvonne Linehan through the recovery community. Even before Menino announced he would not seek a new term, Linehan was already introducing her constituents to Walsh, convincing him to file a bill on Beacon Hill to award the franchise for Massachusetts’ state rock song to “Roadrunner,” a driving anthem by an underappreciated Boston punk group called the Modern Lovers. It was an immediate boon to the visibility of both Walsh and Linehan: The “Roadrunner” campaign was noted by publications ranging from Pitchfork to the New York Times. And Walsh got his first taste of Boston rock-scene politics when a dowdy classic-rock station mounted a counter campaign in favor of an Aerosmith song.


As she had done with John Walsh, Linehan made sure Marty Walsh got an education in the arts. “She pushed me on the issue,” he said. In some cases, Walsh would wonder why he wasn’t meeting with a big crowd in Dorchester or South Boston rather than with four or five people from the arts community downtown. But he began to see the arts as part of the identity of the city, an avenue for economic growth, and a way to create opportunities for young people. He found that when he began to bring up the arts at some of these larger community forums, heads in the audience would nod in agreement.

Walsh’s championing of the arts became a keystone of his campaign—which had the effect of underlining Linehan’s influence. After the election, Walsh quickly committed to creating a cabinet-level “arts czar” position, and also pledged to earmark a percentage of city revenue to arts funding. Even before Walsh set foot in City Hall, it was a remarkable commitment of resources—a victory for Boston’s creative class, and an impressive triumph for Linehan, who is also playing a top role in Walsh’s transition team.

“She won,” laughed Walsh about Linehan’s schedule-busting small meetings. “And I’m grateful for it.”