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Tito Jackson Heads to House of Blues ... And Mr. Cheung Returns from Washington

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 27, 2009 07:04 AM

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There are two city council candidates, one in Boston and one in Cambridge, who are aligning themselves with the innovation economy. Both are under 35, and they're using just about every tool in the social media toolbox -- from Twitter to LinkedIn to Facebook to Google Voice -- to connect with prospective supporters.

Tito Jackson (no relation to the recently-departed King of Pop) is formerly the Massachusetts Office of Business Development's liaison to the IT industry. He vacated that job in order to run for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council. Jackson, 34, has also worked as a sales rep for drug companies like Eli Lilly and Ortho McNeil, and as an account exec for Silverlink Communications, a venture-backed start-up in Burlington that helps drug-makers communicate with their customers.

Leland Cheung, 31, is currently a student at MIT's Sloan School of Management and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. (Cheung, obviously a total slacker, earlier earned a pair of Bachelor's degrees in physics and economics from Stanford.) He spent the early part of the summer interning in Washington at the Department of Energy, where he worked for the brand-new ARPA-E program, which is in the process of funneling at least $150 million in funding to the next generation of energy technologies. Cheung earlier was a senior associate at Cambridge-based Masthead Venture Partners, and was an organizer of the MIT Energy Club and the MIT Energy Conference. His campaign aims to "make Cambridge the hub for America's Energy Innovation."

(That's Cheung in the picture above, back-to-back with "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver, who was at MIT last month filming a segment for Comedy Central. The five folks in the photo are spelling out MIT, just FYI.)

Here's more on the candidates, and their plans for Cambridge and Boston:

Jackson has dubbed his campaign platform "Jackson's 5 Point Plan," which seemed a lot wittier before Michael Jackson's untimely passing. Point #1 involves "creating great jobs for great people," and Point #3 is about "providing first class public education." Jackson told me yesterday he also aims to make Boston's permitting process more friendly to businesses that want to locate or expand within the city. "We're competing not just with states like North Carolina or Michigan, but other parts of Massachusetts that are being more aggressive than Boston," he said.

Jackson noted that he has been trying to use social media to build momentum for his campaign; of the 15 candidates for Boston City Councilor At-Large, he says he has the largest number of supporters on Facebook (1800+ last time I checked.) That could help Jackson as he goes up against the incumbent city councilors, since the only elected office he has held thus far was a stint as student body president at the University of New Hampshire.

Jackson is holding a fundraiser tonight at the House of Blues on Landsdowne Street -- oddly, to mark Michael Jackson's birthday. (He says that he or others may also say a few words about the passing of Ted Kennedy.) The theme of the party is "Wanna Be Startin Somethin." (iRobot CEO Colin Angle is holding a smaller, private event in support of Jackson's campaign tonight in the House of Blues' back room.)

Cheung tells me he's going to wait until mid-September, when all his fellow students are back, to hold a kick-off party for his campaign. He starts classes next week, though he's taking a lighter load than normal so that he'll have time to spend on the campaign trail. (The campaign itself will be part of an independent study project Cheung is doing under the supervision of Kennedy School lecturer Steven Jarding, who has run campaigns for U.S. Senators like Tom Daschle, John Edwards, Jim Webb, and Bob Kerrey.) Cheung told me he isn't aware of any currently-enrolled students who've won a seat to the Cambridge City Council (post a comment if you know of one), but noted that Matt DeBergalis ran as a relatively recent MIT graduate in 2003 -- and lost. (DeBergalis now serves as chairman of the Cambridge-based online fundraising organization ActBlue, which supports Democratic candidates.)

Cheung says that sending out Twitter messages about his various local events has helped to drum up crowds, "and Facebook is a great mechanism for keeping people up-to-date on the campaign." He built his campaign site himself, using the blogging platform WordPress. "It was cheaper than hiring someone," he notes.

One of Cheung's goals is to better connect the students of Cambridge with the community. "Students at MIT and Harvard are there because they want to have a positive impact in the world," he says. "We have some of the brightest minds in the world here. As a city, we can engage those people in a collaborative partnership."

Cheung's platform involves things like enabling Cambridge residents to conduct more city transactions online; starting a bike-sharing program in the city; supporting energy efficiency initiatives; and pairing up middle school students with college students to prepare them for higher education.

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1 comments so far...
  1. Awesome column. Enjoyed reading it. I am from Minnesota and totally unaware of politics in Boston. I was actually looking for information on "the" Tito Jackson for my farm column, when I stumbled across this column. You'll have to read my column to see how Tito Jackson and farming fit together! Thought it was witty; read the entire thing! GREAT JOB!

    Posted by Kerry August 27, 09 07:31 AM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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