How a race-class narrative can work for Democrats
And Pressley does: Her main priorities, she tells interviewers, are “economic inequality, the wealth and wage gap, structural racism, and gun violence.” She describes her campaign platform as an “equity agenda” that promises to address, among other things, “systemic racism.” (Pressley’s campaign did not respond to interview requests for this story.)
For the Pressley volunteer Jocelyn Antonio, that outspokenness is exciting. “She knows what it is to go through those instances where you are a minority,” said Antonio, who recently moved to Boston and whose parents immigrated from Mexico. Pressley, she says, also “seems to understand intersectionality more.” She offered an example. During an interview in February after the high-school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Capuano said he once placed a police officer in a school as a means of reducing gun violence. Pressley has subsequently accused him of supporting “the militarization of schools.” “She seem[s] to understand what having a police officer in schools might do … when it comes to race,” Antonio said.
Pressley’s supporters praise her ability to speak fluently and with nuance on everything from transgender rights to Black Lives Matter, while they feel Capuano’s understanding of those issues is limited. “It seems like he was not engaging his constituents, especially his constituents of color, so he could understand them and advocate for them as effectively as possible,” said Solomon Steen, a local Democratic activist. “When Ayanna start[ed] running, it [was] immediately apparent she has a deeper understanding of engagement in the community, a more sophisticated grasp of what underrepresented populations need.”
Audrey Coulter, a spokeswoman for Capuano’s campaign, said the congressman has “deep, strong roots” in the Seventh District. “Mike has built a record of listening to people, working with them on the toughest challenges and never backing down,” Coulter said in a statement. “He’s a tireless progressive champion for working families, immigrants, communities of color, seniors and kids, in the fights critical to protecting our most fundamental values.”
Capuano’s supporters argue that record matters most of all. “Why am I gonna give up all that institutional knowledge, seniority, and work that he’s done for the district for someone who’s gonna basically vote the same way?” said the Chelsea city councillor Roy Avellaneda. “Boston loses in changing face right now when it’s not about ideology.” He added, for context: “I’m Latino, so I’m a minority, and I’m backing Mike Capuano.”
The congressman himself has suggested the campaign should focus on policy differences. “If you’re going to have a difference of opinion, I think the difference of opinion should be on a matter of substance. So someone should be able to come in and say, ‘Well, I’m for this and my opponent is not.’ That has not happened in this case—virtually at all,” he told WBUR in a recent interview. In an earlier talk with the radio station, he said he believes most constituents “will look way beyond” his identity as a white male. “Look, I cannot be a woman of color. And if that’s what people care about, that’s fine. I accept that, I understand that,” Capuano said. “I just don’t think there are that many people who will vote for me because I’m a white male or vote against me because I’m a white male.”