Working on a gubernatorial campaign in which the candidate lost by the largest margin in Massachusetts’ political history might not seem like an auspicious start, but for Susan Elsbree, it was the beginning of a dynamic career.
Elsbree worked on the 1994 campaign of Mark Roosevelt, who ran against William Weld.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Elsbree said. She garnered experience, and now-longstanding friends, including the man who became her husband. One of her campaign friends knew then-Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Tom O’Brien and referred her. “Boston is all about relationships,” she said. And from there, she launched a 16-year stint at the BRA, which she characterizes as “the greatest privilege.”
Elsbree’s work to attract the 2004 Democratic National Convention to Boston, with the help of Sen. Ted Kennedy and Mayor Thomas Menino, was controversial, she said, but put Boston on the map from a convention and visitors’ perspective. Over the years the BRA team became a second family.
“Politics is a sport and a cult. It’s not for everyone, but I loved and still love it,” she said.
She has worked on projects with major implications for the city, including the redevelopment of South Boston’s Edison Power Plant and a proposal to redevelop the Government Center Garage. It was during one of Boston’s most prolific development times, Elsbree recalled – the Big Dig, which dramatically changed the city by reconnecting Boston to its waterfront, arguably leading to today’s explosive growth of the Seaport District.
The work life at Inkhouse today – a bi-coastal, 10-year-old independent public relations and social content agency – has seen a multimedia explosion of news outlets, requiring the late-adopting real estate sector to embrace social and digital media, Elsbree said. “We work hard to get clients up to speed, quickly.”
Today’s white-hot Boston development market has created pressure on many of Boston’s outlying neighborhoods. Projects need to offer communities something beyond development, Elsbree said.
In her non-work life, Elsbree is active with educational and religious entities. As an urban public school advocate, she fundraises at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain, where she lives and which her kids attended. She has stayed active with that school, and raised money for a new playground with a track, an endeavor augmented by a boost from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
At Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, she serves on the executive committee of the board of directors. The temple is an urban congregation in an environment in which Jews’ relationships with their synagogue is changing, she said, so the temple board is creating a new financial and membership model for membership in the new millennium.
Where does family life fit into all this? Elsbree describes herself as a super-organized early riser, but said her work-at-home husband takes on a lot of the logistical duties. Additionally, she praised Inkhouse as a firm that encourages and supports women.