Ayanna S. Pressley, born February 3, 1974 is an American politician serving as an at-large member of the Boston City Council in Boston, Massachusetts. She is the first non-white woman elected to the council. Pressley is the 2018 Democratic nominee for Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district, having defeated incumbent Michael Capuano.
Pressley was born in Chicago, Illinois, to mother, Sandra Pressley (née Echols), who worked multiple jobs to support the family and also worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Urban League advocating for tenant’s rights, and father, Martin Pressley, who struggled with addiction throughout Pressley’s childhood, but eventually became a college professor. The marriage ended in a divorce. Pressley grew up on the north side of Chicago.
After leaving Boston University, Pressley worked as a district representative for United States Representative Joseph Patrick Kennedy II (D-Mass.), who she had interned for during college. The work included assisting constituents with Social Security claims and working with senior citizens and veterans and people with disabilities. Pressley went on to become Kennedy’s scheduler, then worked as constituency director, before becoming the political director and senior aide to Senator Kennedy.
During 2009, Pressley served as United States Senator John Kerry‘s (D-Mass.) political director, responsible for managing his relationships with elected officials at the city, state and federal level and with various community leaders.
Pressley was first elected to the Boston City Council in November 2009. After being sworn in on January 4, 2010 she became the first woman of color to serve in the 100-year history of the Boston City Council. The only woman in a field of 15 candidates, Pressley earned one of four at-large spots on the city’s 13-member council with nearly 42,000 votes.
In the November 2011 Boston City Council election, Pressley faced a competitive reelection, but finished first among at-large candidates with 37,000 votes. She won 13 of the city’s 22 wards and finished second in three others. Pressley won Boston’s communities of color and many progressive neighborhoods. In all, Pressley placed first in more than half of Boston’s 22 wards. Pressley topped the ticket again in November 2013 and November 2015, and placed second in November 2017.
In January 2018, Pressley announced her challenge to United States Representative Michael Capuano in the 2018 Democratic primary nomination for the Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district, held on September 4. The 7th district is traditionally Democratic, and Capuano has received endorsements from civil rights veteran and U.S. Representative John Lewis as well as U.S. Representative Maxine Waters. Pressley has been endorsed by The Boston Globe, the Brand New Congress and the Justice Democrats, locals of the hotel workers and the electrical worker unions, former Mass. Democratic Party chair John E. Walsh, former Newton mayor Setti Warren and Boston city councilor Michelle Wu. The nomination win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over long-time representative Joseph Crowley increased the visibility of her campaign. However, some outlets have distinguished Pressley’s campaign from that of Ocasio-Cortez, because unlike Crowley, Capuano is understood to have among the most progressive records in Congress. In the September 4, 2018 Democratic primary, Pressley successfully defeated Capuano.
Pressley lives in Dorchester with her husband, Conan Harris, and her stepdaughter.
Pressley has been public about being a child survivor of sexual abuse. She was also sexually assaulted while a student at Boston University.