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Five things to know about Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley gave her victory speech after defeating Michael Capuano.
Ayanna Pressley gave her victory speech after defeating Michael Capuano. (Emily Zendt)

In an upset that made national headlines, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley made history on Tuesday night, beating Representative Michael Capuano in the Seventh District congressional primary.

Pressley, 44, will run unopposed in November and is poised to become the first woman of color from Massachusetts to serve in the US House of Representatives.

Here are five things you should know about the likely future congresswoman:

1. Pressley was the first African-American woman elected to the Boston City Council.

Pressley was elected to the City Council in 2009, becoming the first African-American woman to serve.

On the council, she established the Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities, which works on issues that affect women and girls disproportionately.


She also worked on a sexual education and health curriculum for Boston Public Schools, helped push for the creation of 75 liquor licenses, and “convened the first listening-only hearing in the Boston City Council’s history,” she wrote on her website.

2. Unlike Capuano, Pressley supported the abolishment of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

There weren’t many significant policy differences between Pressley and Capuano, but one major issue they disagreed on was ICE.

When asked by a voter in July what made her different from her opponent, Pressley pointed out that she had recently pitched in her support to the national movement seeking to abolish the agency.

She had announced her support earlier this summer for that stance, saying that ICE is “irrevocably broken.”

“If elected I will work with federal leaders to rehouse the non-immigration enforcement functions of ICE — including human trafficking and money laundering investigations — elsewhere in the US Department of Homeland Security, while immediately eliminating funding for enforcement and removal functions,” she wrote.

Capuano, on the other hand, said he wanted to focus on changing immigration policy.

3. In 2016, Pressley was named one of “14 Young Democrats to Watch” in The New York Times.

In a column written by New York Times reporter Frank Bruni, Pressley was one of four Massachusetts politicians named on Bruni’s list of “14 Young Democrats to Watch.”


Also included: Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III of Newton, Representative Seth Moulton of Salem, and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu.

“Last year,” Bruni wrote in 2016, “the political action committee Emily’s List honored Pressley, 42, with a rising star award, and her terrific acceptance speech charmed and moved those who heard it, significantly raising her profile.”

“It paid tribute to the political trailblazers Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan and to the poet Audre Lorde, but most of all to Pressley’s mother, whose voice, Pressley said, ‘told a black girl growing up on a tough block in Chicago that she had a right to a life of her own choosing.’ ”

“ ‘It was a voice of comfort for a little girl whose father was stolen away by addiction and incarceration,’ she continued. And that voice, she added, still ‘comes to me when the walls close in, when the critics are loudest, when the doubts are greatest.’ ” ,’ ”

4. Pressley worked for both a Kennedy and a Kerry.

Prior to her work on the Boston City Council, Pressley worked as a senior aide for former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, who was replaced in Congress by Capuano, and John Kerry in the US Senate.

5. Pressley has spoken about being a survivor of sexual assualt.

During a public hearing in 2011, Pressley revealed that she had been raped while she was a student at Boston University.

She had previously spoken about being a survivor of sexual assault, as both a child and an adult, but it was the first time she mentioned being sexually assaulted in college.


“I am a survivor of sexual assault while a college student,’’ Pressley said at the City Council meeting. “Mine is a truth shared by 17.7 million American women. And, like 90 percent of rape survivors, I knew my attacker.’’

Pressley said at the time that she wants to put a “face to issues.”

She encouraged colleges and universities to take the opportunity to “set the national standard and improve their brand.”

Pressley has continued to be an advocate, particularly on issues that affect women and girls in school.

Felicia Gans can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.