Alejandra St. Guillen’s path to political ambition has been one marked by public tragedy and private pain.
St. Guillen, who is running for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council, has spent years rising through the ranks of progressive politics, compiling an impressive resume that includes working under Mayor Marty Walsh and running ¿Oíste?. But that’s not the start of the story.
The story begins, in some sense, with the high-profile homicide of her only sibling. The murder of Imette St. Guillen was one of those homicides that immediately seized the public’s attention.
Like her sister, Imette St. Guillen had grown up in Boston before moving away for college — first, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then to New York for graduate school, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She was just weeks from graduation when she was brutally murdered by a bouncer she had encountered in a bar, in February 2006.
Understandably, her death left her mother and only sister reeling.
“My sister was everything to me,” St. Guillen said. “She looked up to me, and I felt that one of my core duties my entire life was to protect her. And the fact that I wasn’t there to do that left me with an incredible amount of guilt and an incredible amount of obligation to see that the life that she didn’t get to lead would be lived out by others.”
St. Guillen, 42, grew up in Mission Hill and went to Boston Latin School before attending Wesleyan University. She taught in the South Bronx for two years before moving back to Boston, when she worked for an educational nonprofit.
She had already suspected that education wasn’t her true calling. But in the tumultuous time after Imette’s death, her search for direction began to take on clarity. With no political experience but a lot of smarts, she landed a job at the State House working for Senator Dianne Wilkerson, where the idea of running for office someday began to take root.
St. Guillen left her post at the city’s Office for Immigrant Advancement to run for office. To her, this is an exciting time on the City Council, where she sees a bold group of councilors pushing ideas in a way the council hasn’t historically.
She also sees a city grappling with issues of rising inequality.
“I see Boston as a place that we’ve really grown in some magnificent ways, and definitely many people have benefited from the ways that we have grown,” she said. “But there are many people who have not, and I see that we are at a crossroads right now where we can create a Boston that works for everybody, or one that continues to be plagued by chronic inequality and inequity in wealth, education, and housing.”
As someone who grew up in working-class Mission Hill and was identified as a star student early on, issues of equity resonate with St. Guillen. She knows that her path to Boston Latin and on to an elite college could easily have been different.
“It’s not that I was given anything that I didn’t earn, but at the same time, there’s a level of luck that comes along with that path, and I could’ve just as easily gone down another path,” she said. “And so that’s why the issues of education in our schools are hugely important to me, and the fact that not all students are receiving access to equitable quality education across the board is a huge concern for me.”
St. Guillen says she’s been excited by the level of public interest in an off-year election, contests which have traditionally been sleepy. For her, though, running for office is the culmination of a journey that began with the tragedy of losing her sister 13 years ago.
“You have to find the peace within yourself to be able to continue your life, because that’s what she would have wanted.”Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com. Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.