City Councilor at-large Ayanna Pressley is actively courting support for a run at the council presidency — an 11th hour candidacy that has council members bracing for a heated leadership battle when the newly elected council meets for the first time on Monday.
The council presidency is now a showdown between Pressley, a popular councilor beloved by the city’s progressives, and Bill Linehan, the South Boston district councilor who is considered one of the body’s most conservative members.
“I’m confident that I could lead and represent the council,” Pressley said in an interview with the Globe on Saturday. “I’m someone who has had to be able to bridge build and form coalitions and to find common ground. That’s what I would do as council president.”
By throwing her hat in the ring, Pressley, who received more votes than any other member of the council in this November’s election, is attempting to succeed where two colleagues have fallen short.
Councilors Tito Jackson of Roxbury and Matt O’Malley of Jamacia Plain both previously mounted campaigns for the presidency, but abandoned those efforts once incoming councilors Tim McCarthy and Michelle Wu chose instead to vote for Linehan, which gave him the six votes needed to be elected. None of those councilors returned calls seeking comment.
That prompted criticism of Wu, elected with the support of many of the city’s more liberal voters, and public pressure for her to switch her vote. Wu, however, doubled down on her support of Linehan.
The prospect of a Linehan presidency prompted a push among progressive activists to convince Pressley to seek the position: Those efforts, Pressley says, finally swayed her.
“After being urged by a broad and diverse group of people including colleagues, supporters, and Boston residents, I thought that the responsible thing to do was consider it,” Pressley said. “During the next two days, I’ll be reaching out to all of my collegaues and asking for all of their support.”
Pressley supporters hope that her entry into the contest for the council presidency will prompt Wu and other Linehan supporters to rethink their votes.
In addition to her own vote, Pressley is believed to have the backing of Jackson, O’Malley, and incoming Councilor Josh Zakim, as well as the potential support of Councilor Frank Baker — who had previously agreed to vote with the progressive coalition.
Her bid would still require her to peel off at least one vote from Linehan.
However, as of Saturday night, none of the councilors believed to be backing Linehan — Wu, McCarthy, Sal LaMattina, Mark Ciommo, and Michael Flaherty — had given any indication that they were seriously considering switching their votes. None returned calls for comment, nor did Linehan.
Pressley’s bid is also expected to put increased pressure on 30-year Councilor Charles Yancey, a political wildcard who has previously refused to say who he will support and has often mounted lone vote campaigns on his own behalf for the council presidency.
Pressley supporters say they plan to mobilize leaders in communities of color to put pressure on Yancey, who did not return calls for comment, to support Pressley’s bid.
“The main issue for me is that I would love to see a person of color ascend into this position,” said Michael Curry, president of Boston’s chapter of the NAACP. “Bill Linehan is not the option for communities of color. And those councilors who rely on our votes but will be lining up behind him, we’ll be paying attention to that.”Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.