Change happens in the trenches. Five years ago, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley set out to overhaul the way Boston hands out liquor licenses, the golden tickets that allow restaurants to serve booze. Over the decades, the beneficiaries of the license system had ossified into a fearsome special interest in the city, thwarting any effort to share the wealth more equally. Exorbitant prices for the limited number of licenses locked out newcomers. The result: fewer opportunities, especially for women and minority entrepreneurs. Main Streets in many neighborhoods were robbed of the vitality and economic growth that vibrant restaurants can spark.
Pressley understood how seemingly arcane rules promote economic and racial inequity, and she acted. She pushed through reforms that created 75 new licenses, including ones targeted to poorer parts of Boston. As a direct result of Pressley’s advocacy, the city is encouraging entrepreneurship and righting a historical wrong at the same time.
The liquor license reforms were symbolic of Pressley’s broader approach to policy-making: A deep commitment to justice and equality, but also a talent for perceiving concrete opportunities to make things better. The Globe enthusiastically endorses Pressley for the Democratic nomination in the Seventh Congressional District primary on Sept. 4. Pressley, who was the first black woman elected to the City Council and would be the first black woman ever elected to Congress in Massachusetts, has rare political talents, combining personal charisma with a shrewd understanding of how to translate values into policy.
Her creative approach to reducing inequality is the mindset the district needs. Stretching from Randolph to Somerville, the Seventh District includes some of the neediest corners of Massachusetts most affected by racial disparities. That’s by design: In 2011, the state Legislature added Randolph and part of Milton, two suburbs with substantial black populations, to the district, while removing mostly white areas like the North End. The result is a district in which roughly 57 percent of residents are black, Hispanic, or Asian. The Legislature’s redistricting panel sought to enhance the district’s status as the only minority-majority district in the state precisely to make it more competitive for candidates of color.
To represent the district, it’s not enough to simply shake loose money from the federal government, or provide a reliable vote for the Democratic Party agenda. But in a nutshell, that’s the pitch of Pressley’s opponent, incumbent Representative Michael E. Capuano. He points to housing and community health centers across the district built with money that he pried out of Washington, and to his unbroken voting record for progressive causes. Capuano has decades of experience in Washington, relationships with top Democrats, and enough seniority to secure powerful transportation or housing positions. If Democrats retake the House, Capuano will have ample clout. During his time in Congress, Capuano estimates he has secured $5 billion in transportation funding over five years, an increase of 10 percent over previous levels. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
But the district needs more than just money (and anyway, Pressley doesn’t seem like she’d be a pushover when it comes to jockeying for federal cash). It also needs an advocate in touch with the everyday experiences of the district’s residents, including the most vulnerable. In addition to her work on liquor licenses, Pressley has also been a strong champion for women and girls, and for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Those voices are often absent in Congress — a deficit Pressley would help fix.
Voters might be hesitant to move on from Capuano after his years of experience and the seniority he has accumulated in Congress. But Pressley is a proven advocate with an understanding of the needs of the district, and she would be a fresh voice in Congress. Pressley represents the present of the Seventh District and the future of the Democratic Party. She will serve the district well in Congress.