Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is young, articulate and a part of a new generation of doggedly determined, passionate progressives. She has a brilliant future ahead. In these ways as well as others, she has drawn comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Castro who threw a huge wrench into the works by defeating a longtime Democratic leader in Congress from New York, Joe Crowley. Where the comparison falls off completely is that Michael Capuano, the longtime congressman Pressley is trying to send packing, is no Joe Crowley.
I attended Pressley’s campaign office opening in Jamaica Plain a couple of weeks ago. The turnout was impressive—a mixture of young, diverse supporters who were clearly ready to work for her. Her speech was powerful as she talked about bringing her supporters along with her as she challenged the establishment.
I also attended a campaign event for Capuano. That too was filled with passionate supporters. The difference was, his supporters (at least at this gathering) were far less diverse—I think there was one person of color. It was also filled with established politicians.
But Capuano’s brief statement to the gathering was no less powerful, no less persuasive and no less passionate. He is a guy who has been in Congress for 20 years and a politician who even Pressley supporters say, has done a good job for the people of the Mass. 7th.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Crowley immediately triggered a comparison to Pressley v. Capuano. But Crowley did everything wrong when running for reelection—he refused to debate Ocasio-Cortez, pretty much ignored her and thought he could just cruise to victory. A member of the congressional Democratic leadership team, he just plain thought he had it in the bag.
Take it from someone who has had a chance to speak to Capuano several times in the past two weeks—he is not taking Pressley for granted; he is not thinking he can just go on autopilot because he’s been in Congress for so long; he is as hard-charging as ever, ready to debate any topic at any time.
While there is very little if any daylight between Capuano and Pressley on the issues, there have been some nuances that have been popping up. Back in March, the Boston Globe reported that Pressley continued to spend heavily on campaign consultants in the run-up to her announcement that she would challenge Capuano but after her election victory last November. As a congressional candidate, Pressley has to abide by federal campaign finance rules which include not using state campaign funds for a federal race.
Capuano has also had his share of bad press. It turns out working for Congressman Capuano is a pretty good gig. He has the highest-paid staff in Congress, either House or Senate. The mid-range salary is $81,000 compared to $51,000 for Congressional staffer as a whole. Now, of course, there are many variables. Anyone who knows Capuano’s work can attest to how effective he is. Perhaps it’s because he hires the best and the brightest.
Capuano also took some heat when a Boston Globe report characterized him as “testy” when asked about the Ocasio-Cortez race and Pressley’s position that ICE should be abolished. Capuano voted against the creation of ICE. It would seem calling for the end of ICE (as even Sen. Elizabeth Warren has done) is grandstanding unless there is a replacement agency that operates differently and is overseen by someone other that Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And that’s not going to happen.
Pressley, meanwhile, struggled a bit in a recent radio on WGBH to explain why voters should effectively turn out Capuano. She was also noncommittal on whether, if elected, she would support Nancy Pelosi as party leader or even speaker of the house if Dems retake the chamber.
Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley have both sounded the alarm that speaking with constituents about issues should be the key instead of focusing on President Donald Trump. Of course, that assumes a candidate can’t do both. We (and yes, I live in the 7th district) expect our congressperson to do everything they can to fight the disaster that is the presidency while still working on other important issues.
The Mass. 7th is not the NY 14th. Bay State voters are extremely knowledgeable, politically savvy and less prone to elect a “protest” candidate.