On Tuesday, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley upset 10-term Rep. Mike Capuano in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District by a wide 59-41 margin. A November win for Pressley, which is all but assured in this safely blue seat, would make her the first woman of color to ever represent the Bay State in Congress.
Pressley and Capuano are both solid progressives, and during the campaign, Pressley rarely took issue with the congressman’s voting record. However, Pressley contended that this Boston-area seat, which is by far the most racially diverse in the state and home to a very high proportion of college-educated voters, needed an activist rather than just another reliable vote, and she pitched herself as an agent of change.
Capuano, who had been re-elected with ease throughout his career, had a massive financial advantage and the support of much of the local Democratic establishment, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former Gov. Deval Patrick, and a number of prominent unions. Capuano argued that his experience and seniority were vital to the district—a pitch that evidently did not resonate with an electorate eager for a new face and a new direction.
Indeed, Capuano didn't seem to fully grasp the direction that the Democratic Party has been moving in. The congressman complained that the party base was becoming "balkanized" by racial identity, and he took issue with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protests against police brutality, saying he agreed with Kaepernick’s cause but believed his decision to kneel during the national anthem was “not productive.”
Pressley, by contrast, spoke of her status as a sexual assault survivor and argued that her experience of being raised by a single mother in a household where her father was often incarcerated gave her a perspective shared by many voters in the district—one that Capuano lacked. She frequently declared on the campaign trail that "the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power," and she touted her work on the city council to secure liquor licenses for businesses in what she called "disenfranchised neighborhoods." And while the two candidates mostly agreed on the issues, Pressley notably called for abolishing ICE while Capuano said he supports reforming the agency.
Pressley's win comes at a time when women and people of color have been making high-profile inroads into Boston political establishment. In 2009, Pressley's win made her the first-ever woman of color elected to the city council; by last year, five more women of color had joined her on the 13-member body. On Tuesday night, another woman of color, Rachael Rollins, also won the Democratic primary in the open-seat race for district attorney in Suffolk County, which includes all of Boston. Like Pressley, Rollins, an advocate of criminal justice reform, is the heavy favorite in November.
This post has been updated.