Careers

Meet Ayanna Pressley, the Democrat who could become Massachusetts' first black Congresswoman

On Tuesday, Ayanna Pressley defeated 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary for the Seventh Congressional District of Massachusetts. Since she will not face a Republican opponent during the November midterm elections, Pressley is poised to become the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress.

The upset victory surprised many. When she learned that she had won her race, Pressley herself was taken aback. In a reaction video that has since gone viral, Pressley's eyes widen, she puts a hand on he necklace and asks "We won?"

After the news set in, Pressley stepped onto a stage in Dorchester to give her victory speech. "It is time to show Washington D.C., both my fellow Democrats, who I hope will stand with us, and the Republicans who stand in our way, and to everyone in the Seventh Congressional District, that change isn't waiting any longer," she said to a crowd of her supporters. "We are going to rise. Change is coming and the future belongs to all of us."

Pressley also called President Donald Trump "a racist, misogynist, truly empathy bankrupt man."

According to FiveThirtyEight, Capuano spent $1.7 million throughout his re-election campaign but Pressley spent just $767,000. Capuano had not faced a primary challenger since he first won his nomination in 1998 reports the BBC.

While Pressley's victory over Capuano — a staunchly liberal Somerville native who has held his seat in Congress for 20 years — may come as a surprise to some, others understand that Pressley's rise to political power has been a long time coming.

Pressley previously worked for Senator John Kerry and Representative Joseph Kennedy II. In 2009, Pressley became the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council. In 2014, she was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Leaders by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, she was named one of Boston Magazine's 50 Most Powerful People. In 2016, she was named one of The New York Times 14 Young Democrats to Watch.

As a Boston City Councilor, Pressley established Boston's Committee on Healthy Women, Families and Communities, updated school district policies for pregnant and parenting students and developed sexual education and health curriculum that is now a permanent part of Boston Public Schools' wellness policy. She supports universal healthcare, common-sense gun reform and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Many have compared Pressley's victory to that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old political newcomer who beat leading House Democrat Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District of New York in June. Like Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez will not face a Republican challenger during the mid-terms and is thus set to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Ayanna Pressley
Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Ayanna Pressley

Pressley differs from Ocasio-Cortez in several ways. Notably, she is not a political rookie like Ocasio-Cortez and she does not identify as a democratic socialist. Still, they both represent an increasingly undeniable trend — communities are electing newer faces and representatives that more-closely represent constituents.

As women of color running for office in districts that are populated by citizens who are primarily people of color, both Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez emphasize the importance of a democracy in which elected officials reflect their communities.

"Listen, I'm not saying vote for me because I'm a black woman, but I won't pretend representation doesn't matter. It matters," Pressley said during her campaign according NPR. "This district is 57 percent people of color and almost 40 percent single-female-headed households. The district has changed."

Indeed, maybe those who didn't see Pressley's victory coming, aren't paying close enough attention.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: