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Pressley launches bid for congressional seat

‘The residents of this district deserve a choice’

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Pressley launches bid for congressional seat
Ayanna Pressley

At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley kicked off her campaign for the 7th Congressional District at a Cambridge restaurant Feb. 13, vowing to push against the political climate in Massachusetts that favors incumbents over insurgents.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 300 at the restaurant La Fábrica Central, Pressley pledged to work on rising health costs, access to capital for small businesses, income inequality, the growing wealth gap, systemic racism and the Greater Boston area’s crisis of housing affordability.

By all accounts, Pressley faces an uphill battle against Capuano, an 18-year incumbent and former mayor of Somerville. A WBUR poll of likely Democratic voters showed Capuano with a 12-point lead over Pressley districtwide. While Bostonians in the poll preferred Pressley 46 percent to Capuano’s 35 percent, voters in the other cities and towns in the district — Chelsea, Cambridge, Everett, Milton, Randolph and Somerville — favored Capuano 66 percent to 17 percent.

Pressley’s run against Capuano goes against the grain in a state where Democrats rarely challenge incumbent Democrats. Capuano’s last serious challenge, from millionaire environmental activist John O’Connor, ended abruptly, shortly after O’Connor entered the race.

In her remarks, Pressley played up her underdog status, telling supporters that she had been pressured to not challenge Capuano.

“I’ve been told to wait my turn,” she said. “I’ve been accused of naked ambition. Close friends told me not to run because it would make things politically inconvenient. I’ve been accused of being a traitor for taking on a Democrat. I’ve been told this isn’t the way things are done in Massachusetts.”

Speaking in the cadence of a seasoned orator, Pressley advocated for her candidacy, saying she would fight for issues that concern residents of the majority-people-of-color district.

“The residents of this district deserve a choice,” Pressley told her supporters. “The people of the 7th Congressional District aren’t concerned about the political inconvenience of any one man or woman and neither am I. What concerns me is the daily uneasiness, stress and worry of many folks in this room and many more beyond — longtime district residents are up at night wondering if one day soon they’ll be pushed out of the neighborhoods they cherish.”

Issues

As yet, Pressley has identified few issues where she has sharp differences with Capuano, a point the incumbent raised during an appearance on WBUR’s Radio Boston earlier in February.

“During [Pressley’s] interview, I didn’t hear any specifics as to things that we would do differently, which I think [are] what elections are all about,” he told host Meghna Chakrabarti.

One issue where the two have clashed is on the president’s proposed boarder wall with Mexico. Although both candidates are against the wall, Capuano told the New England Council business group he would support limited funding for Trump’s plan, “as long as he gave us real immigration reform so we don’t have to play this game again.”

Pressley, in a statement sent to reporters, said she would not support the border wall.

“We must ensure that we don’t spend a penny on our president’s delusional border wall, and that at-risk communities in the district and across the country are protected from the bigoted policies coming from the Trump administration,” Pressley’s statement read.

During her campaign launch later that evening, Pressley was even more pointed in her criticism of Capuano’s apparent willingness to make concessions to pass immigration reform.

“We can’t play small and hang our hat on good votes on bad bills that pass,” she said.

At her kickoff event, Pressley demonstrated considerable support for her congressional bid. She was joined by District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey, At-large Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, state Rep. Evandro Carvalho and Chelsea City Council President Damali Vidot. Other political activists from Boston and Cambridge included gubernatorial candidate Bob Massie, political activist Suzanne Lee, former state Rep. Gloria Fox and longtime Caribbean Carnival Association of Boston President Shirley Shillingford.

Veteran campaign strategist Wilnelia Rivera, who is serving as the Pressley campaign general manager, says her effort will focus on one-on-one contact with voters in the district.

“We’re excited to build a grassroots movement to talk to voters across this district,” she said.

Janey, who says she will volunteer on Pressley’s campaign, said she expects Pressley to have broad support throughout the district.

“I think her base is everyone who gets to know her,” she said.