The Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in next month's primary in a key Boston-area congressional district acknowledged Tuesday that if elected she would likely vote the same way as the incumbent, but insisted leadership was about more than casting votes.
Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and Capuano agreed on many issues — including their contempt for many of President Donald Trump's policies — during a one-hour debate co-sponsored by The Boston Globe and WBUR-FM at the University of Massachusetts' Boston campus.
Pressley, who in 2010 became the first black woman elected to the council, is hoping to unseat Capuano, a 10-term Democrat widely considered one of the most liberal members of the Massachusetts delegation, in the Sept. 4 primary. There are no Republicans running in the heavily Democratic district that includes parts of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.
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Interest in the race has intensified since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — whom Pressley counts as a friend — stunned the New York Democratic establishment, and the nation, with her June 26 primary victory over 10-term U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley. That race and the Massachusetts contest have both pointed to rifts within the Democratic Party, as more liberal and often younger voters embrace newer and more diverse candidates.
"We will vote the same way, but I will lead differently," said Pressley.
"What this district deserves and what this time requires is active leadership, someone who will be a movement and a coalition builder, because ultimately a vote on the floor of the House will not defeat the hate coming out of the White House," she said.
Pressley added that her focus would be on income inequality, structural racism and gun violence.
Capuano has said he understands the desire among many voters for change, but touted his experience and seniority on Capitol Hill, as well as a voting record that has received perfect grades from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.
"It does take a while to learn how to get things done in Congress," he argued. "I've been there for a while and my record speaks for itself, my record in not just voting the right way, but advocating for the right things, both locally and nationally."
Capuano, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, noted successes in the area for public transportation, a key issue in the largely urban district.
"Votes are part of what we did, but advocacy is just as important," he said.
Pressley bristled at a question about whether race was a defining issue in her campaign.
"I have been really furious about the constant charges being lobbed against me about identity politics that, by the way, are only lobbed against women and candidates of color," she said. "I happen to be black and a woman and unapologetically proud to be both, but that is not the totality of my identity."
The 7th Congressional District is the first in the state where minorities make up a majority of the voting population. Capuano, who is white, said race and gender were important and touted his records on civil rights and human rights.
Neither Pressley nor Capuano would commit to voting either for or against Nancy Pelosi for speaker should Democrats regain control of the House in the next Congress. Pressley said such a discussion would be premature until Democrats solved their own "identity crisis," while Capuano said he would decide whether Pelosi should be replaced if and when the time comes.