Q&A: Ayanna Pressley on Running for Congress, How She Varies from Capuano, #MeToo and Human Trafficking

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At-Large Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley

At-Large Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is running for U.S. Congress to challenge fellow Democrat and longtime incumbent Michael Capuano. Pressley answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about her candidacy, why she's chosen to buck the system and challenge an incumbent within the same party, her city council accomplishments and more.

At-Large Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley

Q: You're running for the 7th District of the U.S. Congress while serving on the Boston City Council. How are you balancing a congressional campaign and your council work?

Pressley: I’m running for Congress to elevate the work I’ve done on the Boston City Council. I’ve led in this district for more than eight years, and will continue to be a bold advocate on the Boston City Council for the issues that transcend neighborhood and impact everyone.

Q: You're breaking against the modern code that established politicians don't challenge incumbents in their own party. What made you decide to challenge Congressman Mike Capuano?

Pressley: This is the district where I live, and it is where I want to serve. My mother didn’t raise me to wait my turn, and I’m certainly not raising my stepdaughter to wait her turn, either. I was taught, from an early age, that if you believe you have something to contribute, that you ought never to be afraid to raise your hand and be counted. I’m running for Congress because the issues facing this district and this country could not be more urgent -- and I have a proven track record for delivering meaningful policy solutions to our most pressing problems.

Q: Some people believe that you and Rep. Capuano are both liberal and extremely similar with your values and progressiveness. How are you different than him and why should people vote for you instead of him?

Pressley: I believe everyone has a unique lens informed by this personal and professional lives. And I certainly believe that one’s effectiveness in government is defined by more than just a voting record. Certainly, all good Democrats believe in taking action on important issues, from gun control to immigration, but the lens and approach you take to government matters. In my time on the Boston City Council, I’ve used my lived experiences and professional background to take on some of our region’s most challenging issues, and have done so by working with community cooperatively. That’s the model of governing that I hope to take to Washington.

Q: Name one issue that you would vote differently than Rep. Capuano?

Pressley: Again, it is less about a contrast of issues and about a value add that I would offer in Congress. Gun control is a timely and illustrative example of the work I’ve done that differs from many other democrats. Certainly, all good Democrats believe in making it harder for domestic abusers, the mentally ill, and others to get guns, and think we should pass a nationwide assault weapons ban. What many Democrats haven’t talked about, however, are solutions to the generational trauma that surviving family members of gun violence victims are forced to live with after the lives of their loved ones are stolen from us. If I am fortunate enough to be elected to Congress, I will work to institutionalize the support structures that I have helped create across Boston to ensure that if someone loses a loved one to gun violence, in any neighborhood, that they are met with the wraparound services they need to endure and persevere and then to thrive.

Q: How would you characterize your relationship with Rep. Capuano? Did you speak with him before you announced your candidacy?

Pressley: Our interactions have always been respectful and cordial, and I’m glad that we had an opportunity to speak at length before my announcement.

Q: While you may be similar to Rep. Capuano, you are less similar to District 8 Congressman Stephen Lynch. Did you put any thought to moving and challenging him?

Pressley: I have worked, lived,  and led in the 7th Congressional District for most of my professional life. As an aide for Representative Joseph Kennedy II, to Senator John Kerry, to serving as an At-Large Boston City Councilor, this is the district I want to represent. The 7th Congressional District covers approximately 70 percent of the city of Boston, where I have been decisively re-elected as the top vote-getter in three of the last four elections.

Q: You had the most votes in three straight at-large Boston City Council elections. You're obviously popular in Boston. Why not run for mayor of Boston?

Pressley: I have never put my name on the ballot because a job was available or “winnable.” Putting your name out there and putting your record on the line is a big decision and comes with considerable risks. But this is the job I want, this is the district I hope to serve and this the place where I hope to continue to make an impact to eradicate poverty, break cycles of poverty and violence and ensure that residents have the tools to build healthy and thriving neighborhoods.

Q: If elected what will you focus on while in the U.S. House of Representatives?

Pressley: I will continue my work towards building a more equitable society for everyone. In Congress I hope to continue my work as a Boston City Councilor. In the last eight years, I’ve worked to expand economic opportunities for our most underserved neighborhoods; to create pathways to graduation for vulnerable students, especially pregnant and parenting teens, in Boston Public Schools; to create pathways for women and people of color to find work in the building and construction trades; and to create and implement a comprehensive, citywide trauma support and response protocol in Boston. Those issues will guide me in Congress, and I will continue to work at the most important and ambitious priority of all: the eradication of poverty across every city and town in the 7th Congressional District and beyond.

Q: While on the Boston City Council you have focused on preventing human trafficking. How would you expand those efforts at the federal level?

Pressley: Here in Boston, I worked with two different mayoral administrations to change the narrative around how we prevent human trafficking. Instead of penalizing the exploited girls and women who were caught in the criminal justice system, we knew we had to address the johns who were coming into Boston and creating the demand. We have passed local ordinances impounding cars involved in human trafficking and we hope to use the money collected by these fees to support survivors of human trafficking and getting them on a pathway to healing. We need to ensure that the resources are available for not only local law enforcement to crack down on demand, but also there is an investment in survivor serving organizations.

Q: What are tangible accomplishments you can point to from your time on the Boston City Council?

Pressley: Every legislative victory has come from intentional partnership with community. I am proud to have convened parents, students, teachers and administrators to write a comprehensive sexual education curriculum for Boston Public Schools that is medically accurate, culturally competent and age appropriate. And while we are still working to ensure equitable access to these services, we now have a standard curriculum for every school. I am also so proud to be able to traverse this city and see dozens of new restaurants and dozens more of existing restaurants that now can serve a dinner crowd with a liquor license. For four years, I worked with existing and aspiring restaurateurs, community members, the City Council, two different mayors and the Massachusetts State House to reform our antiquated liquor license laws. In 2014, we were able to create 75 new licenses, 80 percent of which were dedicated to traditionally underserved neighborhoods and finally returned the Boston Licensing Board to the city (it had been the only local board appointed by the governor). While we still have some work ahead of us, these licenses have been game changing for local business districts and have created jobs across the city. And there are many, many more--from our first in the nation sideguard ordinance protecting cyclists, to an ordinance last year to promote equity in city of Boston contracts, and working with nationally recognized criminal justice reform advocate, Dr. Monique Morris, to use the expertise of our girls of color to reform school discipline policies and combat the school to prison pipeline.

Q: With the #MeToo movement do you think the next frontier is eliminating bullying at work? What will you do to protect employees from supervisors who bully?

Pressley: Certainly, dealing with bullying and harassment in the workplace is an incredibly important issue. First and foremost, I want survivors of bullying, harassment, and assault to feel heard, seen, and believed. I’ve worked with partners from the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and others to support victims of these incidents, and will continue to work to institutionalize support and recovery services from our boardrooms, our courtrooms, and everywhere in between. And City Councilor Josh Zakim and I have filed a hearing order to discuss the internal procedures of the Council when it comes to harassment claims--not because there was an incident, but because we can always do better, and in order to advocate effectively we have to be fully informed.