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Penalty phase set to start

Pressley is running for reelection on her own terms

City Council at-large candidate Ayanna Pressley signed in at the Harry Truman Rally Breakfast at West Roxbury Pub and Restaurant.

Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda

City Council at-large candidate Ayanna Pressley signed in at the Harry Truman Rally Breakfast at West Roxbury Pub and Restaurant.

The first time Ayanna Pressley won a seat on the City Council, it was hailed as the dawn of a new day in Boston politics.

In her reelection bid two years ago, she was depicted as battling to save her political life.

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Back then, she teamed with Councilor John R. Connolly, banking on his trove of campaign funds and wide appeal in some of the city’s high-voting, whiter precincts. She sailed to the top of the council at-large ticket in the 2011 election.

Now in her quest for a third two-year stint on the council, Pressley said she is running on her own terms. She has been praised for her stump speeches, but some observers have grumbled that she plays it too safe on the issues, including where she stands on the contentious police contract. And some have noted that while other black politicians have lined up to endorse the men running for mayor — one of whom is Connolly — Pressley, an African-American, has stayed quiet.

“I feel misunderstood,’’ Pressley said.

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She said that at the time she teamed with Connolly, her mother was dying and she was more focused on saving people than fund-raising. But now, she’s campaigning hard, refusing to take any vote for granted.

Saying her thoughtful, deliberative approach leaves her open for criticism, Pressley points to the fact that her message has resonated with residents of Boston; her office has fought hard for issues they care about, and her political team has worked hard to keep her on the job for two terms — and hopefully for a third.

Pressley says her tenure on the council has been marked by leading the charge for a comprehensive sex education curriculum.

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“I believe strongly that my election, my reelection, my preliminary showing have everything to do with a mandate on that agenda and the relationship that I have been in with the residents of this city,’’ said Pressley, who topped the ticket during the Sept. 24 preliminary election.

Pressley’s political colleagues call her a preacher, for her rousing speeches, including accounts of growing up in a tough side of Chicago with a drug-addicted father in and out of prison, a mother struggling to keep it all together, and a host of traumatic events along the way, such as sexual abuse and sexual assault.

She went on and earned her political chops as an aide to US Senator John F. Kerry and former US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II. She said her tenure on the council has been marked by leading the charge for a comprehensive sex education curriculum, strengthening pathways to graduation for pregnant and parenting teens, and getting help for families in trauma.

“When I talk about these issues people might filter that as I am only talking about black and brown children growing up in impoverished neighborhoods,’’ said Pressley, who now lives in the Ashmont-Adams area of Dorchester. “But trauma is widely defined. And it is in fact affecting every child.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.
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