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Could this be the year Massachusetts finally elects a Black woman to statewide office?

In their respective primaries, Andrea Campbell and Tanisha Sullivan are challenging history as well as formidable opponents.

Candidate for attorney general and former Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell (left) and Senator Karen Spilka (center) during the Framingham Dems BBQ in Framingham on Aug. 27.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

On Tuesday, Massachusetts voters have an opportunity to do something that’s never been done here before: Make a Black woman the presumptive favorite to win statewide office.

Andrea Campbell, a former Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate, is running for attorney general against Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor lawyer. Tanisha Sullivan, a lawyer and Boston NAACP president, is vying to unseat William Galvin, who has been secretary of state since 1995. In both races these women aren’t just challenging formidable opponents, but history itself.

Campbell told me she was unaware of the absence of Black women elected to statewide office until a reporter mentioned her potential to shatter one of the state’s thickest glass ceilings.


“That is very significant,” she said. “It clearly speaks to the fact that while we are progressive in certain contexts, we still have a lot of work to do in the political arena to diversify our elected positions.” Money, she said, remains a barrier for many would-be candidates of color, especially women.

It remains maddeningly rare for Black women to win the highest offices in statewide elections. Of course sexism, and especially racism, are factors. According to a 2021 report from the Higher Heights Leadership Fund, which builds the collective political power of Black women, and the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, only 17 women have held a statewide office nationwide.

If Campbell wins both the primary and general election (Jay McMahon, a Republican lawyer, would be her opponent in November), she would be the third Black woman nationwide to be elected attorney general. Letitia James, the New York attorney general who lives rent-free in Donald Trump’s head, is currently the only Black woman to hold that office in the country.

Tanisha Sullivan (center), candidate for secretary of the commonwealth, at the cookout for Boston Union Trade Sisters on Castle Island in August. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Should Sullivan defeat Galvin, her Republican opponent in November would also be a Black woman — Rayla Campbell, a Republican who has made false statements about sex education in Massachusetts schools. There are currently three Black women serving as secretaries of state across the country.


According to the US Census, Black women are more than 7 percent of this nation’s population. Less than 5 percent of the people elected to statewide offices, legislatures, and Congress are Black women.

Before she made history as this nation’s first Black and first South Asian woman to become vice president, Kamala Harris had already claimed two other milestones. In 2010, she was elected California’s attorney general, the first Black woman to hold the office in that state. Seven years later, she was sworn in as a US senator, only the second Black woman, after Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, elected to the Senate and the first in more than 20 years.

But when Joe Biden tapped Harris as his running mate in 2020, the Senate lost its only Black woman member. Representative Val Demings of Florida is trying to rectify that. She’s running against Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, in the general election.

The numbers are even more dismal for governorships. No Black woman has ever been elected to lead her state. In 2018, Stacey Abrams came close in Georgia but lost to Brian Kemp. Hopefully, she’ll have a better outcome in November when she again attempts to vanquish her political nemesis.


Those races in Florida and Georgia will be very closely watched. But so will the upcoming primaries for Campbell and Sullivan. That’s how it is, even though these are statewide, not city, elections. Whether fair or not, Boston’s racist reputation casts a long shadow on how people outside this state perceive it.

When Kim Janey was appointed last year as acting mayor after Marty Walsh left Boston City Hall for the Biden administration, it was national news. As the first Black woman to lead the city, she was viewed as a symbol of a transforming Boston. When Janey declared her candidacy, all of her Democratic opponents were people of color, and she was one of three Black contenders, including Campbell.

But when the primary day votes were counted, every Black candidate was counted out. Even though Michelle Wu became the first woman and first woman of color elected mayor, some still saw the rejection of the Black candidates as a missed opportunity. Others bitterly chalked it up to the new Boston acting a lot like the old Boston.

Black women remain the Democratic Party’s most stalwart constituency. They show up for campaigns and they deliver at the polls. However razor-thin the Democrats’ advantage is in the Senate, it would not exist without the diligence of Black women who worked to elect two Democratic senators in Georgia in 2021, tipping the balance of power.


We don’t need more affirming hashtags. Black women deserve opportunities at the highest levels of federal and state governments to better participate in and protect the democracy that they have long defended. Both Campbell and Sullivan are working to change the hoary perception of what statewide leadership in Massachusetts looks like. Now all they have to do is convince voters.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.