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It’s Pressley in the 7th District

Boston voters are decisive factor in upset victory

Catherine Mcgloin
It’s Pressley in the 7th District
City Councilor Ayanna Pressley celebrates her primary victory with supporters at the IBEW hall in Dorchester.

Last Tuesday ushered in seismic shifts in the Greater Boston electoral map, with black women scoring major victories in Boston races.

In possibly the biggest upset of last Tuesday’s primary, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano and will become the first African American to represent the 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her victory generated national headlines and is widely seen as part of a national wave of progressive Democratic challengers to the political establishment.

“I am so humbled to be standing before you tonight victorious,” said Pressley in her acceptance speech at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 headquarters on Freeport Street in Dorchester Tuesday night. “Ours was truly a people-power grassroots campaign, launched just 195 days ago.”

She thanked Capuano, who conceded early in the evening with just 13 percent of the votes counted, for being “unapologetically himself” during his 20 years of service.

“Change can’t wait,” said Pressley from the podium, using her often-repeated campaign slogan, one that resonated with Massachusetts voters who saw her as the embodiment of a national surge from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Pressley won with a 17 percent margin, beating Capuano with 58.6 percent of the vote to Capuano’s 41.4 percent. In Boston, her margin was even higher, at 64 percent. She won in the portions of Cambridge and Milton in the 8th Congressional District. Capuano won in Chelsea with 54 percent of the vote, in Randolph with 51 percent of the vote and in Everett with 65 percent of the vote. In his native Somerville, where Capuano served as mayor before being elected to Congress in 1999, he beat Pressley by just 122 of the 16,614 votes cast.

Pressley became the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council in 2009, running at-large. She was the top vote-getter in the at-large race in 2011, 2013 and 2015. She placed second behind at-large Councilor Michelle Wu in 2017.

Hundreds of supporters gathered in the purple-swathed IBEW hall, enjoying light refreshments as excitement reached its peak earlier in the evening than campaigners had been anticipating. When the result was announced, tears, dancing and hugging broke out across the room, where many of Pressley’s colleagues had gathered to celebrate her victory, including at-large councilors Wu and Annissa Essaibi-George.

Pressley ran on issues that included restoring prisoner voting rights and advocated for an end to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department.

Many supporters at the victory celebration said having a candidate that looks like them meant something in this cycle of elections.

“We committed to running a campaign for those who don’t see themselves reflected in politics or governors, and are forever told that their issues, their concerns, their priorities can wait,” said Pressley.

Santiago Nariño, an East Boston campaign leader, said, “I’m excited for the humanization of our community. [Pressley] is a woman who can humanize my experience as a Colombian American.”

Mari Silva, a volunteer who had travelled from Los Angeles to support Pressley, said that what attracted her to the candidate was “her understanding that your identity is your politics.”