Hard work pays off for Pressley in City Council election

Pressley’s perceived constituency widens in at-large council win

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley got a hug yesterday from Councilor Maureen E. Feeney after Pressley’s victory.

Ayanna Pressley’s meteoric rise and first-place finish in Tuesday’s City Council election came on a groundswell of support that in many neighborhoods transcended race and traditional politics, capturing votes from Dorchester to Back Bay.

In all, Pressley placed first in more than half of Boston’s 22 wards. She dominated in the African-American community, winning 85 percent of the vote in the Roxbury ward that includes Dudley Square. But she also placed first in the section of the city that encompasses much of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. And Pressley, who is black, took second in largely white West Roxbury, capturing 53 percent of the vote there.

The victory was an extraordinary feat for a first-term city councilor who had been expected by many to lose her seat. Pressley benefited from help from other elected officials, including Councilor at Large John R. Connolly of West Roxbury, and from the widespread news coverage that reminded voters that she was the lone woman on the City Council running for reelection.


But no one, not even Pressley herself, expected that she would emerge as the city’s top vote-getter. She reveled yesterday in that victory.

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Yet Pressley also bristled at the suggestion that she had been a damsel in distress, saved by the benevolent efforts of other politicians who campaigned on her behalf.

“I’m grateful, but I don’t want anyone to dismiss me as a historical footnote,’’ Pressley said in her office at City Hall. “It was not a fluke. It wasn’t driven by charity.’’

The result also suggested a shift in Boston’s electorate. Midterm City Council elections have historically been dominated by white, more conservative voters who support their own candidates. But Tuesday, the top two vote getters were members of minority groups: Pressley and Felix G. Arroyo, a Latino who won his second term with 35,465 votes. Arroyo said yesterday that his campaign succeeded, “the old-fashioned way, with hard work.’’

“In the end, there’s always an attempt to overanalyze the results,’’ said Arroyo, who performed well in Mission Hill, Allston, the North End, and finished second in his home ward, which includes Jamaica Plain. “We pride ourselves on having a strong presence in every neighborhood in the city.’’


Connolly, the lead fund-raiser, finished third with 32,803 votes. Last month, he and Pressley formed an alliance that included joint campaign appearances and door-knocking in West Roxbury. On Tuesday, Connolly finished first there with 5,129 votes, while Pressley came in second with 3,761 votes.

“I’m really proud of the numbers in West Roxbury, but Ayanna did this herself,’’ he said yesterday. “She worked nonstop, and she talked about issues people really care about. She earned this victory.’’

City Council President Stephen J. Murphy captured the last of the four at-large seats on the City Council with 26,712 votes. In another surprise, former City Council president and mayoral contender Michael F. Flaherty failed in his comeback bid, finishing in fifth place with 25,790 votes.

Boston’s City Council has nine local district seats and four at-large spots that represent the entire city. At-large elections can be unpredictable because voters are allowed to select up to four candidates. Ballot combinations can vary widely, and some enthusiastic supporters will vote for only one person, giving their candidate what is known as a “bullet vote.’’

Bullets for a single candidate are hard to pinpoint, but yesterday’s preliminary results showed clear patterns of ballots submitted with fewer than four votes cast for the at-large seats. The highest concentration came in the two wards in South Boston, which probably helped Flaherty, who lives in the neighborhood. In that section of the city, Pressley finished near the bottom.


Some minority communities also had a significant number of ballots with blank entries in the at-large race, potentially helping Arroyo and Pressley.

‘I don’t want anyone to dismiss me as a historical footnote. It was not a fluke. It wasn’t driven by charity.’

But it was Pressley’s support in large swaths across the city that propelled her to a win.

When Flaherty announced his comeback campaign in May, news coverage framed the race as Pressley versus Flaherty, with Pressley as the underdog. She finished in fourth place in 2009, and he had the name recognition of a veteran politician.

The summer that followed proved difficult for Pressley. Her mother died in July of complications from leukemia.

In August, the Boston Phoenix published Pressley’s photograph on its cover with an article headlined, “Ayanna Pressley is a rising political superstar - whose career might be over by year’s end.’’

As Election Day approached, Pressley’s campaign swelled with volunteers. Reinforcements arrived from Senator John F. Kerry’s office where Pressley worked for more than a decade and developed strong relationships. Assistance also came from Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s political organization, which provided a model for a get-out-the-vote operation targeting minority voters who often skip City Council elections.

On Tuesday, Pressley’s campaign said it had more than 100 teams of canvassers knocking on thousands of doors in communities of color. After looking at early morning turnout numbers, the campaign made a concerted effort in largely white neighborhoods where Pressley had gained traction. In Charlestown, supporters organized a phone bank and contacted 200 committed Pressley voters.

The effort was even more intense in West Roxbury, where volunteers visited the homes of almost 600 Pressley supporters.

“This was a ground game,’’ Pressley said yesterday. “We had 500 volunteers knocking on 10,000 doors.’’

Matt Carroll of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.