Career Politician vs. Activist: Congressional hopeful Ayanna Pressley debates incumbent Michael Capuano

Bay State Rep. Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor-At-Large Ayanna Pressley sparred over who would best represent the Seventh Congressional District in Congress – notably the most diverse district in the state – during a debate at UMass Boston hosted by WBUR on Aug. 7.

Capuano touted his many notable endorsements as evidence of his effectiveness as a current congressional leader while Pressley pointed out the disparities that still exist between municipalities within the district.

Both candidates will appear on the primary ballot on Sept. 4 to represent the district in Congress, which includes Somerville, Cambridge, Boston and Chelsea.

“It does take a while to get things done in Congress,” Capuano, former Somerville mayor and 10-term congressman, said, arguing that his experience is needed to take on the agenda of his Republican colleagues and President Donald Trump. “My record speaks for itself in advocating for the right things.”

Pressley, elected the first woman of color to the Boston City Council in 2009, said in a time where systemic inequalities have only worsened and deepend in the district, it is time to do more than just be anti-Trump.

“It’s time to redefine leadership,” Pressley said. “The needs of the district and the job description has changed.”

Pressley branded herself as a coalition-builder, who would provide activist leadership to challenge the agenda of Donald Trump and to deliver for all people in the district.

When asked about her race and her gender, Pressley said the question is only asked to women and people of color.

She said being a black woman is “not the totality” of her identity, but does provide a different lens and lived experience that can help spotlight issues that are often ignored.

“I’m not going to pretend representation doesn’t matter,” Pressley said, vowing to have agenda that speaks to the unaddressed issues in the district including supporting families of those killed by gun violence.

Capuano said while race and gender do matter for representation, he has brought home major investments for community health centers and transportation, including the Fairmount Line and the highly anticipated Green Line Extension.

“That’s advocacy, that’s knowing how to get things done for the benefits of this district,” Capuano replied.

On the issue of diversity, Pressley described her skills in mobilizing people, even on contentious subjects. Capuano said he has done the same while in Congress though it has been difficult to work with his Republican colleagues on issues, such as criminal justice reform.

Capuano admits that when Democrats controlled Congress they were bogged down with trying to pass the Affordable Care Act and that took up the time needed to address other issues. He said if elected again, and if the Democrats take control of Congress, he would prioritize an infrastructure bill and protecting those with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Pressley said she could find a way to work with Republicans if elected but is not willing to negotiate on issues she firmly believes in. Her work, she said, would prioritize criminal justice reform and a fix to housing that would make it easier for those with criminal records to get housing. She also would like to support a rent relief proposal that would provide a tax break to those who are paying 60 percent or more of the income towards housing.

Capuano said he looks forward to backing a proposal that would tax milage as a way to raise revenue for projects like infrastructure.

Although both agreed that essentially their voting records would be the same on the issues, Pressley argued that she would bring a bolder and more innovative approach to problems and promote an equity agenda with constituents in the seventh district.

“I reject the notion that because we live in this dark blue district that things are a-ok,” Pressley said. “Every issue that exists the solution lives in those who are impacted.”

Both also agreed that Trump has been an ineffective leader and support impeachment proceedings if elected.

“With Donald Trump in the White House we are in the fight of our lives, he is threatening everything we care about,” Capuano said. “With my experience and know-how, we can do more.”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

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