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‘Expectations and complexity are high’: Meet the five residents running for Select Board, Brookline’s highest elected office

The Select Board meets in January 2024. Photo by Artemisia Luk
April 26, 2024  Updated April 28, 2024 at 4:19 p.m.

With five candidates running for two seats on the town’s Select Board on May 7, voters will decide the make-up of the five-member panel that serves as the town’s executive branch,

The candidates for the two Select Board seats are Chair Bernard Greene, Sana Hafeez, Alec Lebovitz, Susan Park and David Pearlman. Click on their names below to read about each.

The board makes major decisions that shape the future of Brookline: hiring staff leaders such as the town administrator and police chief, setting property tax rates, enforcing the town’s bylaws, licensing restaurants and other businesses and much more. Often the board is called upon to weigh in on broader global issues, such as race and policing, or more recently the Israel-Hamas war. It makes recommendations on warrant articles that will be decided by Town Meeting, Brookline’s legislative branch.

“The expectations and the complexity are high,” said former Chair Heather Hamilton, who stepped down in 2023 after serving six years on the board. “And people expect results right away.”

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Select Board members, who are elected to three-year terms, are essentially volunteers. The position, which comes with a $3,500 annual stipend, is a demanding one that requires hours on the phone and sifting through emails from constituents that can number in the hundreds a week, Hamilton said.

The board meets every Tuesday in sessions that are televised by Brookline Interactive Group on local cable and streamed online.

“We were thrown to the wolves on live TV,” said Hamilton. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Learn more about each candidate:

Bernard Greene

Bernard Greene, who currently chairs the board, is the only incumbent in the race. He has served on the board since 2015, with multiple stints as its chair.

During his campaign, Greene, 74, has cited his experience on the board and in other areas of town government, including Town Meeting, the Advisory Committee and the Housing Advisory Board. He has had a large role shaping many of the town’s policies over the past 10 years.

Recent years have been especially challenging, as Greene and the board have confronted difficult decisions concerning the Covid-19 pandemic, budget shortfalls and debates over race and policing.

Greene, who is the board’s only Black member, says he’s particularly proud of his work to resist attempts to defund the police (which led to a Sunday morning protest outside his house in July 2020), while also working on police reforms, such as a ban on chokeholds.

“Since I’ve been in Brookline, it’s been an excellent police department, very well organized, very well disciplined, and focused on community policing,” said Greene, who cited his negative experience growing up in Philadelphia under the reign of brutal and polarizing police commissioner Frank Rizzo.

Ideologically, Greene calls himself a “thoughtful progressive.”

“I’m a progressive, but I’m not going to jump on every bandwagon,” he says. “I’m going to think through and try to understand what is practical and progressive. The fact that we have pie in the sky ideas is great in the faculty lounge at some university or something, but as a practical matter, it’s not very useful.”

Greene, a retired lawyer, says that he believes his temperament and leadership have helped him make a mark on the Select Board. “I think maybe I’m a little cooler and calmer than many people in town. And I think that is very helpful on the board.”

When it comes to tackling the town’s most pressing issues, including a strained town budget and the production of more affordable housing, Greene often says on the campaign trail that there are no “silver bullets” or “money trees.”

“By starting out by saying these are complex issues, and that there are no short- term solutions, you can begin to give people a sense of what the real solutions are,” he said.

Endorsed by Brookline by Design, Greene is a supporter of carefully laid out plans, including a comprehensive planning process for housing which the town is kicking off now.

“If you have a plan, identify what the obstacles are and what the opportunities are, then you can see how you get from today to next year or 10 years down the road,” he said.

Among the other priorities listed on Greene’s website are encouraging more Black and Hispanic families to move to Brookline and promoting “effective and sustainable policies and practices” to address the climate crisis.

Greene’s other endorsements include three of his fellow Select Board members (Paul Warren, John VanScoyoc and Mike Sandman), the Brookline fire and police unions, and Brookline PAX.

Sana Hafeez

Sana Hafeez, a 27-year-old community organizer, is running for office for the first time.

As national program director for the Black N Brown Club, a Brookline nonprofit that Hafeez said works on “racial and economic equity for Black and brown folks across America,” she has pushed for community-based programs in Brookline in recent years.

She led a successful application for a $1 million grant to create an affordable childcare program with state Covid relief funds handed out by the town.

She worked on the unsuccessful push for Town Meeting to establish a “Black N Brown Commission” that backers said would have created more representation in town government for people of color.

Hafeez also led an application for Community Preservation Act funding to help purchase a four-unit building on Boylston Street for a “rent-to-own” housing program for low-income residents. A town committee recently denied the application but encouraged Hafeez and other applicants to refine their proposal for next year.

Hafeez is a Muslim and a Pakistani-American whose parents immigrated to the United States. She grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and lived in central Florida, where she worked as an organizer with a socialist and prison abolitionist organization called Orlando Dream Defenders, before moving to Brookline about two-and-a-half years ago.

She is a frequent critic of Brookline’s existing town government and shows up regularly at Select Board meetings to push for change and criticize the board’s decisions. On her campaign website, Hafeez writes that the town has “failed to address repeated discrimination” in the community and that “good governance in Brookline is a privilege only afforded to those that do not rock the boat.”

“I don’t think Brookline has, in most cases, overt, directed racism,” Hafeez said in an interview. “But in terms of the broader scale, I think … there’s all this passion for progressive issues, for diversity and inclusion. And I think what the community has been saying is that [the town government] has been funneling that into causes that catch headlines, that are progressive in sound but not in practice.”

As she’s been on the campaign trail in recent months, Hafeez says she’s heard from many residents that they don’t feel represented by the town’s current government.

If elected, she said, her first priorities would be to increase community access and participation in the Select Board’s work, including efforts to make the town’s website more accessible and boost community feedback.

“There’s so much wisdom and community knowledge,” Hafeez said. “People are so eager and willing to talk to whoever they can to get things done. I can’t speak for every neighborhood in Brookline, but I’ll talk to every neighborhood.”

Other priorities on her campaign website include increasing the density of housing in Brookline, supporting workforce development and job training, and keeping Brookline on the pulse of climate-friendly technology.

Hafeez has faced criticism that her approach to town government is too confrontational.

“People want to use against me the fact that I’m aggressive or intimidating,” she said. “But that’s really more of how they view me, versus what I’m actually doing.”

Her website does not list any community endorsements.

Alec Lebovitz

If elected, Alec Lebovitz, 29, would be one of the youngest members in Select Board history. (Former Congressional candidate Jesse Mermell, who served on the board from 2007 to 2013, was 27 when she was voted in.)

Having been an elected Town Meeting member for two years, Lebovitz says experience comes in different forms.

“I don’t think youth equates to a lack of experience,” said Lebovitz. “I think I have a Town Meeting resume that speaks for itself. We moved eight warrant articles in the last few years successfully, five of them new bylaws, and touching on really critical and hot button issues like housing affordability, reproductive rights and fiscal management.”

In fact, Lebovitz is coming off a major and, to some Brookline observers, surprising political victory in Town Meeting. He led the successful campaign to pass a warrant article that asked the state legislature to allow Brookline to cap rent increases. It was approved narrowly, 112 to 107, in November, after months of often emotional debate that frequently rehashed heated rent control fights of previous decades in Brookline.

Lebovitz said he was working to persuade members until the last minute in the high school auditorium at Town Meeting. In the end, some of the supporters of his proposal were members of the so-called “old guard” of Brookline politics, he said.

“There are a lot of narratives out there about how Brookline is two towns and they’re in contention with each other. That’s not been my experience at Town Meeting,” Lebovitz said. “My experience has been that if you are focused on policy, focused on workable solutions and how we can make them feasible, focused on being a collaborator and open-minded … you can move a lot of these things forward.”

Lebovitz, who has lived in Brookline for seven years and rents in Coolidge Corner, works professionally as a health policy analyst.

Another of his policy priorities at Town Meeting in recent years has been to find ways to get tax-exempt nonprofit organizations to contribute more to the town’s finances. He led the work on a town report that identified $2 million in possible Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) funds, and found several large organizations that don’t contribute.

“In the dire [budget] situation we’re in, that’s just not really acceptable from my perspective, and particularly when some of those entities are large hospital or university systems like Northeastern University,” he said.

On his website, Lebovitz lists a range of other priorities, such as finding new tax relief options for seniors, increasing funding for the town’s public health department and asking the state legislature to allow 16- and 17-year-olds vote in local elections.

Lebovitz is running his campaign in partnership with Miriam Aschkenasy, a current board member who is stepping down to run for School Committee, and is widely-considered the farthest left member of the board ideologically.

“I definitely have progressive values, and that’s certainly what brought me into politics,” Lebovitz said. “But I’d encourage you to look at my entire Town Meeting record, which is one of working with folks from across the entire ideological spectrum in Brookline politics to move forward what I think are well crafted policy solutions.”

In addition to Aschkenasy, Lebovitz’s endorsers include Mermell, School Committee members Sarah Moghtader and Mariah Nobrega, Carol Caro of the Brookline Community Aging Network, Brookline for Everyone and the Brookline Equity Coalition.

Susan Park

Susan Park, 52, has lived in Brookline for nine years and has been a Town Meeting member since 2019, as well as a member of the town’s Advisory Committee.

She is coming off of leading a successful ballot question campaign last year to cap the number of marijuana retailers in Brookline at four (down from the previous five).

Question 3 won in all 17 of Brookline’s precincts, making for a large town-wide victory.

“What that told me is that I know my constituents,” Park said in an interview. “A lot of people were telling me their concerns and I helped address that need.” She has continued to be involved with marijuana policy since, serving on a steering committee that studied substance use habits among students.

Park says her campaign is also about representation. If elected, Park, who is Korean-American, would be the first Asian-American to ever serve on the Select Board.

More than 18% of Brookline residents identify as Asian, according to data from the most recent census in 2020.

“I want everyone who may not feel comfortable coming to make public comments, for whatever reason, I want them to know that there’s someone sitting on the board that’s approachable, that looks like them,” she said. Park led a petition denouncing anti-Asian hate after a series of shootings in 2021, and also helped develop a survey which collected information about the experiences of Asian-American community members.

Park is a former teacher who has worked at a public school in Pennsylvania, a college in Missouri, and an international school in Cambodia. In recent years, she’s spent much of her time writing, including articles for the Brookline Tab newspaper, and she has written four children’s books.

Park’s advocacy has sometimes come in non-traditional ways: for example, the Girl Scout troop she led spoke at Town Meeting a few years ago in support of a resolution committing Brookline to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2040.

On her website, she emphasizes priorities including boosting mental health services in Brookline and increasing support for seniors, including developing policies to help seniors age in place.

Overall, Park said, “I really think I would bring a lot of good insight and perspectives to the board. I’m not an ideologue, I’m not into identity politics,” she said. “But when I think of all my different experiences, I really think I can help our town and bring that balance to the board.”

Park’s endorsements include a number of Town Meeting and Advisory Committee members, School Committee member Sarah Moghtader and other residents.

David Pearlman

David Pearlman is looking to move to the Select Board from his current position as chair of the School Committee.

It has been a challenging few years for Brookline’s schools, and Pearlman has been on the committee as it made difficult decisions around the Covid-19 pandemic and contract negotiations with teachers that included a one-day strike in 2022. More recently, the School Committee meetings he has led have served as an emotional outlet for parents, teachers and students to talk about issues such as the Israel-Gaza war and racial inequities in education.

In an interview, Pearlman, 41, said that he likes to see School Committee meetings crowded with people who care. He said he’s pushed to open up public comment, and tried not to cut people off.

“I personally welcome criticism,” he said. “When someone is intensely praising you, or intensely criticizing you, both of those feelings come from a place of a feeling. And to me, apathy and indifference is much worse.”

Pearlman calls himself a “Brookline lifer.” He moved here in 1986 at the age of four, going to the Pierce, Lincoln and the-Devotion (now Florida Ruffin Ridley) Schools before graduating from Brookline High School in 2000.

A Town Meeting member since 2013, Pearlman says that he feels this is the right time to try to jump to the Select Board.

“I’m very concerned about affordability and our ability to maintain not just a strong school system, but strong town services,” Pearlman said. His experience working on the schools’ budget has “really led me to the conclusion that we have to do all that we can to try to expand revenue, preferably not off the backs of our residential taxpayers.”

Pearlman says his experience on the School Committee, which approves around 60% of the town’s budget, has also given him experience in other areas such as substance abuse and sustainability policies he helped craft.

“For me, it’s not just my vision of what to do. I’ve already done it on the school side, and I want to be able to bring that experience and structure that I’ve already created, and have a record of, to Select Board,” he said.

In addition to pushing for more commercial development (he says he’d like to see a sports bar and a hotel come in at the site the town is currently eyeing on Route 9 in Chestnut Hill), Pearlman says he wants to see Brookline add more “housing across all price points.”

On his campaign website, another priority that Pearlman lists is making recreational spaces and amenities more accessible to residents.

In his day job, Pearlman is an attorney representing parents and guardians in child welfare cases.

His endorsements include six of his current colleagues on the School Committee, Brookline by Design, Brookline PAX and many Town Meeting members.