Ayanna Pressley

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Ayanna Pressley
Ayanna Pressley Portrait.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 7th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2019
Preceded byMike Capuano
Member of the Boston City Council
at-large
In office
January 4, 2010 – January 3, 2019
Preceded bySam Yoon
Succeeded byAlthea Garrison
Personal details
Born
Ayanna Soyini Pressley

(1974-02-03) February 3, 1974 (age 46)
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
Conan Harris
(m. 2014)
Children1 stepdaughter
EducationBoston University (attended)
WebsiteHouse website

Ayanna Soyini Pressley (born February 3, 1974) is an American politician who has served as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts's 7th congressional district since 2019. Her district includes the northern three quarters of Boston, most of Cambridge, and parts of Milton, as well as all of Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, and Somerville.[1]

A member of the Democratic Party, Pressley defeated the ten-term incumbent Mike Capuano in the primary election and ran unopposed in the general election. She had previously been elected as an at-large member of the Boston City Council in 2010. Pressley was the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council and the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio,[4] but raised in Chicago, Illinois, the only child of mother Sandra Pressley (née Echols),[5] who worked multiple jobs to support the family and also worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Urban League advocating for tenant's rights,[6] and father Martin Terrell, who struggled with addiction and was incarcerated throughout Pressley's childhood,[7] but eventually earned multiple degrees and taught at college level.[8] The marriage ended in divorce.[5]

Pressley grew up on the north side of Chicago[8] and attended the Francis W. Parker School.[9] While at the prestigious private school, she was a cheerleader, did modeling and voice-over work, appeared in Planned Parenthood bus advertisements, and was a competitive debater. During her senior year of high school, she was voted the "most likely to be mayor of Chicago" and was the commencement speaker for her class.[10]

Her mother later moved to Brooklyn, where she worked as an executive assistant and later remarried.[5] When Pressley was elected to the Boston City Council, her mother would often attend the public meetings, wearing a hat that said "Mama Pressley."[5]

From 1992 to 1994, Pressley attended the College of General Studies at Boston University, but she left school to take a full-time job at the Boston Marriott Copley Place to support her mother, who had lost her job. She took further courses at Boston University Metropolitan College, also known as MET.[6][10]

Earlier political career[edit]

After leaving Boston University, Pressley worked as a district representative for Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II (DMA), for whom she had interned during college.[6] The work included assisting constituents with Social Security claims and working with senior citizens, veterans, and people with disabilities. Pressley became Kennedy's scheduler, then worked as constituency director, before becoming the political director and senior aide for Senator Kerry.[8]

During 2009, Pressley served as United States Senator John Kerry's (D-Mass.) political director.

Boston City Council[edit]

Pressley was first elected to the Boston City Council in November 2009. Upon being sworn in on January 4, 2010, she was the first woman of color to serve in the 100-year history of the Boston City Council.[2][11] The only woman in a field of 15 candidates, Pressley earned one of four at-large spots on the city's 13-member council with nearly 42,000 votes.[2]

In her first year as a City Councilor, Pressley formed the Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities, which addresses issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, and human trafficking. She worked collaboratively with community members to develop a comprehensive sexual education and health curriculum and update the expectant and parenting student policy. Both were successfully implemented into Boston Public Schools.[12]

According to Erin O'Brien, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, during Pressley's time on the City Council, she did not have the reputation for being controversial or as an outsider.[13]

In the council election of November 2011, Pressley faced a competitive re-election, and finished first among at-large candidates with 37,000 votes. She won 13 of the city's 22 wards and finished second in three others. Pressley won Boston's communities of color and many progressive neighborhoods. In all, Pressley placed first in more than half of Boston's 22 wards.[14] Pressley topped the ticket again in November 2013 and November 2015, and placed second in November 2017.[15][16][17]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

2018 election[edit]

In January 2018, Pressley announced her challenge to incumbent United States Representative Michael Capuano in the 2018 Democratic primary nomination for the Massachusetts's 7th congressional district.[18] However, the 7th is so heavily Democratic that any Republican challenger would have faced nearly impossible odds, so no Republican even filed, meaning that whoever won the primary would be all but assured of victory in November. With a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+34, the 7th is by far the most Democratic district in New England. The Republicans last put up a challenger in the district during Capuano's first run in 1998, when it was numbered as the 8th district. The GOP has only nominated a candidate in this district five times since longtime Speaker Tip O'Neill retired in 1986.

The 7th district is traditionally Democratic and is the state's only district where the majority of residents are not white. Capuano received endorsements from civil rights veteran and U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia as well as U.S. Representative Maxine Waters of California.[19]

Pressley was endorsed by The Boston Globe[20] and local chapter of the hotel and electrical worker union,[21] Grassroots movements including Democracy for America, Brand New Congress and the Justice Democrats supported Pressley.[22] She received the endorsements of former Massachusetts Democratic Party chair John E. Walsh,[23] Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey,[7] former Newton mayor Setti Warren[24] and Boston city councilor Michelle Wu.[25] The nomination win in New York's 14th congressional district of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over long-time representative Joseph Crowley increased the visibility of Pressley's campaign.[26][27] While some political commentators distinguished Pressley's campaign from the one of Ocasio-Cortez as Capuano was understood to have one of the most progressive records in Congress, the incumbents both represented districts in which the majority of voters are not white.[28]

Like Capuano, Pressley campaigned as a staunch progressive, admitting that her voting record would likely be almost identical to Capuano's. However, Pressley contended that a reliably liberal voting record was not enough to meet the needs of a district whose demographics and character had changed over the years. She also claimed that the district needed to be represented by someone who would take a more aggressive role in opposing the presidency of Donald Trump. She campaigned with the slogan "change can't wait", and promised that she would bring "activist leadership."[29]

In the September 4, 2018, Democratic primary election, Pressley defeated Capuano by a margin of 59% to 41%.[30] The primary victory was a surprise,[30] as the last poll before the election showed Capuano with a significant lead, 48% to 35%.[31] Part of the reason the polls may have been inaccurate was a surge in the number of primary voters. According to Boston NPR station WBUR, 24 percent of primary voters in the 7th district primary had not voted in the five previous primaries. The percentage of new voters included a disproportionate number of Hispanic and Asian voters.[32] She won the general election unopposed,[33] though the district is so heavily Democratic that she would have assured herself of a seat in Congress with her primary victory in any case.

2020 election[edit]

Pressley was unopposed for the Democratic nomination.[34] Rayla Campbell, a claims adjuster and occupational zoning activist from Randolph, mounted a write-in campaign as a Republican.[35][36]

Tenure[edit]

Pressley is the first African American woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress.[37] With the November election victory of Jahana Hayes in Connecticut's 5th congressional district,[38] they are the first women of color to be elected to Congress from New England.[39][40]

Pressley is a member of the informal group known as "The Squad", whose members form a unified front to push for progressive changes such as the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all. The other members of "The Squad" are Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).[41] Pressley is the oldest and most politically experienced of the four, who asked her to act as spokesperson after Trump attacked them.[13]

In an interview with The Boston Globe in July 2019, Pressley said her office has received death threats after president Trump's tweets of July 14, 2019 and in general since her election.[42]

In May 2019, Pressley gave the commencement address to the graduates of University of Massachusetts Boston, saying they are "President Trump's worst nightmare." In her speech she said, "Represented here today are dreamers and doers, immigrants, people of every race identity, every gender identity and sexuality, sisters rocking Senegalese twists and hijabs."[43]

On September 17, 2019, Pressley filed a resolution that calls for the House Judiciary Committee to launch impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.[44]

In November 2019, Pressley introduced a criminal justice reform resolution that calls for decriminalizing consensual sex work, abolishing cash bail, legalizing marijuana, abolishing capital punishment, and solitary confinement, and shrinking the U.S. prison population by greater than 80 percent. The house resolution is called The People's Justice Guarantee.[45]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Donald Trump[edit]

During her victory speech following the September 2018 primary election, she accused President Donald Trump of being "a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man."[48] She supported the impeachment of Donald Trump.[49]

Healthcare[edit]

Pressley is an advocate of Medicare for all.[50]

In May 2019, Pressley and Senator Cory Booker introduced the Healthy MOMMIES Act, legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage in an attempt to provide comprehensive prenatal, labor, and postpartum care with an extension of the Medicaid pregnancy pathway from 60 days to a full year following birth for the purpose of assuring new mothers have access to services unrelated to pregnancy. The bill also directed Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program's Payment and Access Commission report its data regarding doula care coverage under state Medicaid programs and subsequently develop strategies aimed at improving access to doula care.[51]

Civil liberties[edit]

Pressley supports the U.S. national anthem protests, which have been used to bring attention to police brutality towards black men and specifically used by athletes.[52]

On March 5, 2019, Pressley proposed lowering the voting age from 18 years old to 16 in an amendment she introduced in Congress. This was her first amendment on the House floor and was intended to amend the For the People Act of 2019. Her amendment was defeated 305–126–2, with a slight majority of the Democrats and one Republican voting in favor.[53]

On December 5, 2019, Pressley, Senator Booker, and Representatives Cedric Richmond, Marcia Fudge, and Barbara Lee introduced the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act to ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.[54]

Immigration[edit]

In June 2018, Pressley called for the defunding of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying the law enforcement agency poses an "existential threat" to immigrant communities.[55] In June 2019, Pressley was one of four Democratic representatives to vote against the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act (H.R. 3401, a $4.5 billion border funding bill sponsored by Nita Lowey that required Customs and Border Protection enact health standards for individuals in custody such as forming standards for individuals for "medical emergencies; nutrition, hygiene, and facilities; and personnel training."[56][57][58]

Sexual violence and sex work[edit]

In 2018, Pressley said that she would make ending sexual violence a major priority of her work in Congress.[59]

Pressley supports decriminalizing sex work and prostitution saying, "Decriminalizing sex work would improve the health and safety of sex workers and put them on the path to greater stability." She argued that sex work is the only work available to some marginalized people, especially transgender women of color, and that they would be less at risk if they could self advocate and report unlawful acts committed against them.[60]

Labor[edit]

On April 9, 2019, Pressley was one of four House Democrats to introduce the Be HEARD Act, legislation intended to abolish the tipped minimum wage along with ending mandatory arbitration and pre-employment nondisclosure agreements. The bill would also give workers additional time to report harassment and was said by co-sponsor Patty Murray to come at a time when too many workers are "still silenced by mandatory disclosure agreements that prevent them from discussing sexual harassment and longstanding practices like the tipped wages that keep workers in certain industries especially vulnerable."[61][62]

Foreign policy[edit]

On July 23, 2019, Pressley voted in favor of H. Res. 246, a House Resolution introduced by Illinois Congressman Brad Schneider that formally condemns the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. The resolution passed 398–17; Pressley was the only member of "the Squad" to vote in favor of it.[63][64][65]

Speaking at a fundraiser with Ilhan Omar in Somerville, Massachusetts, Pressley condemned the 2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, saying: "It is consistent with the impulsive, reckless, short-sighted foreign policy of the occupant of this White House who I think proceeds as if he's engaging in a game of Battleship and does not prioritize diplomacy."[66]

2020 presidential primaries[edit]

Pressley at a townhall for Elizabeth Warren in November 2019

In November 2019, Pressley endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren for president.[67] Pressley, who was named one of Warren's three national co-chairs, became a prominent surrogate on the campaign circuit.[68] After Warren's withdrawal, Pressley did not transfer her support to Biden or Sanders.[69]

Criminal justice reform[edit]

Pressley is a supporter of prison reform and supports programs for prisoner reentry that starts well before an inmate has been released from incarceration. In 2020, Pressley's husband, who spent ten years in prison, testified before the United States House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security saying "All the other things that organizations can offer, like identification cards, are important, but it all starts with where you lay your head at night." In the autumn of 2019, Pressley introduced a resolution calling for an overhaul of the criminal justice system called the People's Justice Guarantee.[70]

In early June 2020, Pressley and Libertarian representative Justin Amash introduced the End Qualified Immunity Act.[71][72] The act would remove from law enforcement officers, and other officials, the protection of qualified immunity that had routinely protected them from prosecution when they could claim that acts that would otherwise trigger criminal charges had been committed as part of performing their official duties.[73]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 2012: Aspen-Rodel Fellow in Public Leadership, Class of 2012
  • 2012: Truman National Security Project Partner
  • 2014: Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, 10 Outstanding Young Leaders
  • 2014: Victim Rights Law Center, Leadership Award
  • 2015: Boston magazine, 50 Most Powerful People
  • 2015: EMILY's List, Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award[74][75]
  • 2016: The New York Times, 14 Young Democrats to Watch
  • 2018: Boston magazine, 100 Most Influential People in Boston, #20[76]
  • 2020: Children's HealthWatch Champion

Electoral history[edit]

Massachusetts's 7th congressional district Democratic Primary, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ayanna Pressley 60,046 58.6
Democratic Mike Capuano (incumbent) 42,430 41.4
Total votes 102,476 100
Massachusetts's 7th congressional district General Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ayanna Pressley 216,557 98.2
n/a Write-ins 3,852 1.8
Total votes 220,409 100.0
Democratic hold

Personal life[edit]

Pressley lives in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood with her husband, Conan Harris,[77] and her stepdaughter.[2] In January 2019, her husband resigned from his position as a senior public safety adviser at Boston City Hall to form his own consulting firm, Conan Harris & Associates.[78]

Pressley rarely discusses her religious beliefs, but has mentioned that she is a "woman of faith" who "grew up in the church".[79] She never learned how to drive and continues to use other means of transport.[80] She has been public about her experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse,[81] and was also reportedly sexually assaulted while a student at Boston University.[82]

In January 2020, Pressley revealed that she had been diagnosed with alopecia areata, resulting in the loss of all of her hair; she said in a public announcement, "I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it."[83]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Mike Capuano
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 7th congressional district

January 7, 2019 – present
Incumbent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Katie Porter
United States Representatives by seniority
395th
Succeeded by
Guy Reschenthaler