At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley was first voted to the Boston City Council in 2009, becoming the first woman of color to be elected to that body. She is now part of a wave of candidates challenging incumbent Democrats across the country. Her aim is to unseat local U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano (7th District) in the Sept. 4 primary election. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-answer session with Pressley about the campaign and about the issues facing the local area and the country. For more information about her, visit ayannapressley.com. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: Why are you running for the 7th Congressional District seat?
A.: The 7th Congressional District is one of the most diverse districts in the nation, but it has also become one of the most unequal. In a district where you can board the number 1 bus in Cambridge and, on the short trip to Roxbury, watch out the window as the median household income drops by thousands and the life expectancy by decades, it is clear that the status quo isn’t working. Our leaders in Congress have a mandate not only to resist the actions of Donald Trump, but to make real progress on the challenges facing the residents of the 7th District and our nation. That is the legacy of this Congressional district – a home for bold, progressive leadership. I am running for Congress because my life’s work has been elevating the voices of community and working on issues that have been too often overlooked; now I want to bring those voices to Washington. I want to not only stand up to Donald Trump, but to be a strong, activist leader for every one of the communities in our District.
Q.: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill and how do you plan to address them if elected?
A.: In 2009, I became the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council. My experience on the Council over the past eight years has shown me that, like residents throughout the 7th District, the residents of JP and Mission Hill are struggling with a diverse set of challenges – from lack of access to high quality health care, to stagnant wages, food insecurity, the burden of student loan debt, and unreliable transportation infrastructure, among many others. I believe we need to tackle all of these challenges – that’s why I’m rolling out my “Equity Agenda,” a plan to leverage federal policy in a number of areas to address the issues facing JP, Mission Hill, and the 7th District.
Specifically as it relates specifically to JP and Mission Hill, I believe we need to focus on 1) housing affordability – middle-class residents, families, artists, small business owners and others form the backbone of our communities and should not be being priced out of their homes. In Congress, I will work to preserve existing affordable and market-rate housing, and increase Federal assistance to help cover the cost of housing and mortgages; 2) gun control – too many people in our communities continue to be impacted by gun control and the trauma that results. I will fight for common-sense gun control laws, and will put an intentional focus on addressing the trauma that perpetuates cycles of violence; 3) standing with immigrants – JP and Mission Hill are both tremendously diverse. In our country today, too many of our immigrant neighbors live in constant fear. I will fight for comprehensive immigration reform and to end inhumane immigration policies, including ICE raids in our communities.
Q.: What do you view as the most pressing issues for our country and what will you do to help fix them?
A.: Our country is clearly at a crossroads. Many of the most pressing issues facing the country reflect the challenges experienced by residents of JP and Mission Hill – the cruel policies that are tearing apart immigrant families, growing inequality, and challenges to obtaining healthcare. But I believe there is an even more fundamental issue that is giving rise to the challenges we are experiencing today – a true crisis of empathy in Washington. The cruel and draconian policies being advanced by the Trump Administration are devoid of humanity, and certainly not grounded in the needs of our communities. I have always said that, when it comes to policy making, those closest to the pain should be closest to the power. I have spent my career in the rooms and spaces where politicians rarely go, and I believe that, in order to address the major issues we face in our country, we need activist leadership in Washington who will be strong, intentional advocates for the issues that have been too often overlooked. That is the kind of leader I have been throughout my career, and it is what I hope to bring to Congress.
Q.: What makes you a better candidate to serve as the representative for the 7th District than your opponent?
A.: In a district like the 7th, a deeply progressive Congressional seat, being a reliable vote is simply no longer enough. In today’s political climate, the job description has changed. We need leaders who are active, passionate advocates, and who are not afraid to take on the tough political fights. And when we consider who we want to fight for us in Congress, we must be cognizant of the issues they will prioritize. I have spent my life fighting for women and girls, addressing trauma in our communities, and working to protect public health. These issues are not abstract, they are grounded in a lifetime of lived experience, both personal and professional. I won’t just be a supportive vote on these issues, I will lead. In Washington, these experiences will inform my priorities; I will prioritize different issues than our current Representative – giving greater focus to the issues that have too often been overlooked.
Q.: What is your view of Sens. Corey Gardner’ and Elizabeth Warren’s marijuana bill and how would you vote on it?
A: I support Sens. Gardner and Warren’s proposed legislation that would prevent federal interference in states that choose to legalize marijuana. As states like MA work to reform cannabis policies, I believe our focus must be ensuring that opportunities to participate in the emerging cannabis marketplace are equally distributed. For a number of years I have worked proactively to engage diverse stakeholders and ensure that the eventual production, sale, and distribution of cannabis would be inclusive of communities that have traditionally been locked out – including minority business owners and those impacted by the war on drugs. In Congress I will continue to lead on these issues.
Q.: What are your thoughts on the possible impeachment of President Trump?
A.: Donald Trump gives us examples every single day of why he is unfit for office and ought to be impeached – that’s an easy question to answer and makes for great headlines. I’d cast that vote, but a vote is not enough. As leaders we have to ask ourselves as we navigate this new and dangerous terrain together — how do we resist and progress at the same time? We can protect and stand in solidarity with our constituents impacted by the actions of this draconian administration while also advancing relevant and impactful solutions to the tremendous disparities that exist in this district. These times demand activist leadership, and the residents of the 7th Congressional District deserve a partner. These issues are not new to me. As a Boston City Councilor, I am fighting Trump everyday by standing with the people in the crosshairs of Trump’s attacks in moments of pain, and moments of progress and defiance. In Congress I will do far more than vote, I will continue to fight for and with our communities everyday. These times require us all to do more.