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A second Democrat will challenge Markey for Senate seat

Steve Pemberton is a businessman who spent time in foster care while growing up in Massachusetts. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

A former foster child from New Bedford turned businessman and author will become the second Democrat to directly challenge US Senator Ed Markey in a Democratic primary next year.

Steve Pemberton, 52, will formally announce his bid for the Senate on Tuesday in a web video followed up by kickoff events in New Bedford, Boston, and Worcester.

In an interview with the Globe, Pemberton said that, much like Representative Ayanna Pressley’s challenge to 10-term congressman Michael Capuano last year, his bid for office isn’t so much about anything the incumbent has done wrong, but more about adding a different face, as an African-American man who bounced around in the foster care system, to the Senate.


“There is a different perspective that is needed in the Senate that comes from a lived experience, that comes from having traveled the path that a lot of citizens are traveling today,” he said.

Pemberton joins Markey and Brookline labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan for the September 2020 Democratic primary.

For an incumbent who has represented Massachusetts in Washington in different roles since 1976, Markey’s recent poll numbers are shaky. Just 39
percent held a favorable view of him and 25 percent had an unfavorable view of him, in a
Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll of Massachusetts voters released last month.

Possibly more telling is that more than a third of respondents to the poll either didn’t know who he was or had no opinion about him.

After growing up in the Commonwealth, graduating from Boston College, and working here, Pemberton took a job in Chicago in 2011. He is currently the chief human resources officer for Workhuman, a human resources software company, and split his time between Illinois and Massachusetts until recently. That follows similar posts at Monster.com and Walgreens.

He bought a house in Framingham in May. His oldest child graduated from high school this year, and his two other teenage children will remain in school in Chicago for the time being.


Pemberton has been eyeing a run for weeks and has hired the Democratic consulting group Northwind Strategies to aid him the way the founders did former governor Deval Patrick and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp