Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley addresses a crowd of supporters at IBEW, 103 Local union headquarters in Dorchester following her historic win in Massachusetts' Seventh Congressional District, on Sept. 4. Courtesy Caroline Enloe

Pressley wins Democratic primary for Seventh Congressional District in historic upset

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated Rep. Michael Capuano in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ Seventh Congressional District, which comprises most of Boston and Cambridge and all of Somerville. The unseating of Capuano, a 10-term incumbent, paves the way for Pressley to become the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress.

Capuano conceded the race early Tuesday evening.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but this is life, and this is okay — America’s going to be okay,” Capuano said. “Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congresswoman, and I will tell you that Massachusetts will be well served.”

With all precincts reporting on Wednesday morning, election results reported by the New York Times showed that Pressley had beaten Capuano handily, capturing 58.6 percent of the voters compared to Capuano’s 41.4 percent, a margin of more than 17,000 votes.

According to Somerville’s unofficial election results, Capuano narrowly surpassed Pressley in the city, receiving 8,386 votes to her 8,252.

Inside the Pressley campaign’s election night party, held at IBEW, Local 103’s headquarters in Dorchester’s Freeport Hall, cheers erupted as supporters watched Capuano concede on live election feeds shown throughout the venue. Shortly thereafter, Pressley appeared onstage to celebrate with a lively crowd estimated at more than 150 people.

“It seems like change is on the way,” Pressley said to commence her victory speech, inciting a roar of applause from her supporters.

The race for the seventh district had garnered national attention, partially due to the perceived unlikelihood of a Pressley victory. A WBUR poll conducted in the beginning of August found Capuano leading by 13 points.

Through the lens of policy, not much set the two progressive candidates apart. Pressley and Capuano have both admitted that they share a progressive agenda and that they would likely vote quite similarly in the House.

Capuano’s progressive voting history and extended time in Congress earned him several key endorsements, including those of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Georgia Rep. and civil rights icon John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee.

In addition to highlighting his establishment support, Capuano’s campaign strategy culminated in stressing his record of delivering progressive results for his constituents.

Both on the campaign trail and in her victory remarks on Tuesday night, Pressley emphasized the importance of representing voters of color and that her own experience as an African-American woman made her more qualified to represent the majority-minority seventh district.

“We committed to running a campaign for those who don’t see themselves reflected in politics or government and those who have been told that their issues, their concerns, their priorities, can wait,” Pressley said. “To the residents of the Seventh Congressional District, change can’t wait.”

Pressley thanked her friends, family and volunteers, who surrounded her on stage as she spoke to a Freeport Hall bedecked in purple.

Pressley then recounted the trajectory of her campaign through the heat of the primary season. She highlighted the barriers that she faced as both a newcomer to congressional politics and as a woman running for office.

“I knew we would find no favors from the Democratic establishment, [not] here at home [nor] in Washington, and I knew that we would have to fight for every ballot, every volunteer, every door, every vote,” Pressley said. “I knew I would be demonized as entitled, and what no woman can ever be — ambitious.”

Tufts Progressive Alliance (TPA) praised Pressley’s campaign strategy.

“Ayanna Pressley’s victory over the 10-term incumbent Congressman Mike Capuano shows the power of grassroots organizing and importance of representation,” TPA told the Daily in an electronic message.

While she underscored her campaign’s commitment to “resist” the Trump presidency, Pressley acknowledged that the party must reflect on its composition and stances.

“With our rights under assault, with our freedoms under siege, it’s not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power,” Pressley said. “But it matters who those Democrats are.”

Ultimately, Pressley spoke of a greater movement of people feeling seen, heard and empowered by democracy for the first time in their lives.

To the families like my own who grew up feeling like it was us versus the world, the government didn’t reflect us, didn’t represent us, didn’t advocate for us, didn’t seek us, change can’t wait,” Pressley said. “Growing up, my mother and I felt voiceless and invisible, but she made sure I knew that on election day, we were powerful.”

Her speech finished with a ceiling balloon drop as a victorious Pressley joined her supporters on the dance floor.

Alfreda Harris, a supporter from Roxbury, said Pressley’s win represented a new moment in Massachusetts politics.

“It tells me that it’s a new day and a new time in Massachusetts and the city of Boston,” Harris said. “It’s a movement that’s forming all over the country — where women are stepping forward, coming out, and being real leaders.”

Lianne Hughes, an educator in the Boston Public Schools system who lives in Dorchester, said she has known Pressley since her first year of college. She and her sister stood in awe as a swelling crowd celebrated Pressley’s win.

“We worked on the front lines, and for Ayanna to come through, it just means a lot that it came from the heart,” Hughes said. “It’s a beautiful day to be a black woman in Massachusetts right now because my sister and I, we talk about it all the time — representation does matter.”

Democrats within the Tufts student community also expressed enthusiasm for Pressley’s unexpected victory. In an email statement to the Daily, Tufts Democrats said they looked forward to what they consider to be Pressley’s progressive agenda.

“Ayanna Pressley’s victory in the Seventh Congressional District (which includes much of Tufts’ campus) is a victory for the progressive vision we share,” Tufts Democrats wrote. “She will be an outstanding representative who will fight for equity in our health care, immigration and education systems, and will make the Boston area proud.”

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