Data scientist Dana Bullister is running for City Council. (Photo: Dana Bullister campaign)

The first City Council challenger new to the political scene has declared officially for the Nov. 2 municipal elections: data scientist Dana Bullister.

She follows into the field two challengers prominent in the local business community, including one who has run for a council seat before; and several of the sitting councillors.

Though Bullister announced her candidacy Tuesday, and plans to host a virtual launch party Saturday, the run has been in the works a long time. She filed with the state to fundraise back on Nov. 23.

But the idea to run originated three years ago in a conversation with Nadeem Mazen, who served two terms on the council before opting out of a reelection run in 2017. Mazen said he believed she would be fit for public office.“You have to judge someone before they’re put in that position,” Mazen said in a Monday email. “Is this person resilient? Are they optimistic, sharp, analytical, but not self-righteous? Very few people [run for office] for the right reasons, but she is.”

Bicyclist, renter, data cruncher

Her campaign announcement was less about a platform than about an approach, described as “channeling the collective insights of her community …to facilitate a competent, responsive and effective government. She hopes to increase both engagement and fresh, new ideas.”

She is a bicyclist, and a renter – and said there should be more those on a nine-person council representing a city where nearly two-thirds of residents don’t own a home. Our Revolution Cambridge organizer Sean McFarland is included in Bullister’s press release as agreeing: “There should be six renters on the council,” McFarland is quoted as saying.

But the data science aspect of her biography is portrayed as most important.

As a Wellesley graduate with a double-major in computer science and cognitive and linguistic sciences, Bullister designed and built analytical tools for Boston Children’s Hospital and the SolarWinds software company, leaving in 2017 to start her own software company called ProjectZen, according to her campaign. An MIT program in data, economics and development policy piqued her interest in applying analytics concepts to social and economic problems, and in May she earned a master’s degree in information design and data visualization from Northeastern University.

For a “better functioning government”

Recent projects reflect her interest in the political and the local, including illustrating the distribution of hospitals nationwide, looking at Bluebikes ride duration, tracking the proliferation of the hashtag #StopAsianHate and, in a work in progress, making an interactive map of public comments at City Council meetings to compare what residents talk about and where they live.

“As an information technology designer, I spend the majority of my time talking with people, understanding where they’re coming from, why they’re experiencing pain and what they need,” she said. “The world is not wanting for data, but it is wanting for insights and true understanding of root cause needs.”

There are similarities between deriving clarity from messy data and designing effective policies, Bullister said. “I love the community of Cambridge. I love talking with people in Cambridge,” she said. “And I want to be a part of the solution, building a better functioning government.”

Information on the Bullister campaign is at danaforcambridge.com.

Nomination papers for the Nov. 2 municipal elections don’t become available until July, and are usually due back at the end of that month; 50 confirmed signatures qualifies a resident to run. The past election saw 23 people run for council (including eight of nine incumbents), dropping to 22 by the time of balloting, and 11 for School Committee (including three of six incumbents).

  • Dana Bullister’s virtual campaign launch is at 10 a.m. Saturday. Registration is here.
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