By Milton J. Valencia

October 18, 2019

One of the candidates is a housing and social justice advocate, a Harvard College graduate with a PhD in political thought and intellectual history from one of England’s most prestigious universities. The other is chief executive of a political action coalition to support women in government, a lawyer, single mom of three girls, and the former chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

The surprise matchup between 30-year-old Kenzie Bok and 48-year-old Jennifer Nassour in the Boston City Council district that stretches from Beacon Hill to Mission Hill may be the most unusual local contest next month.

It pits two impressive candidates from opposing political parties in a nonpartisan Boston race, each one promising to tackle local issues such as parking and traffic, the lack of a school in the district, and soaring housing costs.

Nassour’s party affiliation might raise the most eyebrows. It’s been 40 years since Boston voters directly elected a member of the GOP to the City Council.

But Nassour, who has the endorsement of Governor Charlie Baker, says party affiliations shouldn’t matter in a nonpartisan race, calling herself a social progressive who has often been at odds with her own party: She supports abortion rights and gay marriage. She says she would maintain that independence on the council.

“I’m not someone who will play along to get along,” she said.

For Nassour, being a councilor means “taking pride in the community, knowing you care about people in the neighborhood.

“Someone who’s willing to fight for their neighborhood, that’s who should be on the council,” she said.

Nassour has heard it from neighbors, as well, on daily walks with her family’s two labradoodles. She grew up in Queens, N.Y., and worked as a legislative aide in Albany when she was in graduate school. She ultimately got her master’s degree in political science from what is now Long Island University and earned a law degree from St. John’s University. Through the years, she got by with a job as a waitress and $1 bagel-and-cheese sandwiches. In Massachusetts, she raised her family in Charlestown before settling in the Back Bay, where she has lived the past 11 years. She runs a nonprofit group that works to increase the number of women in public office.

Her values were forged in struggles outside of politics, however. When she was 10 years old, she found her father collapsed, suffering from what would be a fatal heart attack. She called 911, but the operator wouldn’t listen to her, telling her instead to put an adult on the phone. The experience taught her to treat people with dignity, never to dismiss them.

After her father’s death, she and her brother were latchkey kids, tending to themselves while a single mother worked to raise them. Her brother, who she said battled medical misdiagnoses and incorrect prescriptions growing up, died of a drug overdose in his 20s while she was in law school.

She learned long ago that “I could never take anything for granted . . . If you want something, you need to fight for it.”

That would be her approach on the City Council, she said. Not on big-headline, national issues, but on local affairs, like cleaner parks and street signs.

“I’ll look at the context of how we fix problems, rather than jumping on a bandwagon,” Nassour said.

Read more via The Boston Globe