With little daylight between them on the issues, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said Thursday that her decision to challenge U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano was about bringing a different "lens" to Congress, but the 10-term Somerville Democrat said he's still waiting to hear what she'd do differently.
Pressley, of Boston, and Capuano appeared in back-to-back interviews on WBUR radio Thursday afternoon just two days after Pressley announced that she would challenge Capuano in a rare primary duel pitting two prominent progressive Democrats against one another.
As a black woman who broke the color barrier on the City Council and three times topped the ticket in Boston with the most votes, Pressley has become a rising star in the Democratic Party.
"I think I've earned the right to run," she said.
Capuano had kind words for Pressley, who could find herself on the opposite end of a party establishment already starting to coalesce around the congressman, but said he believed she'd have to offer more than just a different perspective.
"I didn't hear any specifics, which I still have not heard as to things that we would do differently. I think what elections are all about, yes, it's what you've done yesterday, but it's also about what you'll do, more importantly, tomorrow and that's about issues and I think all campaigns will be about that, whether the candidates like it or not," Capuano said.
"This is a little unfortunate that we have to spend time and money on a family fight," Capuano said, suggesting the "real fight" is restoring a Democratic majority in Congress to "stop Donald Trump dead in his tracks."
Pressley said the 7th Congressional district has changed since Capuano was first elected in 1998, including a growing population of foreign-born residents, single female-headed households, and people living in poverty and reliant on public transit.
"I just want to take the work that I've dedicated my life to higher and farther at a critical moment," Pressley said. She added, "I don't think someone has to be woefully awful for you to stand up and raise your hand to say that you have a different approach, and lens, and voice to lend to the same issues."
Capuano responded, "The district has changed. It's always changing. The times have changed and people do need to change with them. I believe I have done that."
The biggest obstacle in front of her, Pressley said, could be the skepticism about her decision to challenge the "behemoth of entrenched incumbency."
"I'm not raising my 9-year-old step-daughter to believe that she should ever ask permission to lead. If you believe you have something to contribute and you're ready, raise your hand, stand up and be counted and make the case," Pressley said.
Pressley said that the "state of the union" she sees every day is one of income inequality, racism, gentrification and displacement and the erosion of democracy, and that leadership should not be judged by "the binary definition of simply how one votes."
"The issues that I have dedicated my life to are certainly being exacerbated in this current climate given the draconian, cruel and often bigoted policies coming out of Washington," she said.
"Everyone has their own authentic and unique lens," Pressley said. "When you have issues that are being developed through a completely monolithic and homogenized prism, everyone suffers for that, because if we're being honest the issues we are grappling with right now, although complex and pervasive and persistent and are nagging and growing and every other dark adjective I can bring up, they are not new. So if the issues aren't new, the only thing we can change is the approach and the lens to how we take on those issues."
While part of the perspective change Pressley would bring to Congress is that of a black woman, Capuano said he does not think campaigns are decided by identity politics.
"I cannot be a woman of color, and if that's what people care about, that's fine. I accept that. I understand that. I just don't think there are that many people who will vote for me because I'm a white male or vote against me because I'm a white male....99 percent of my constituents will look way beyond that," Capuano said.
Capuano, who got to listen to Pressley's taped interview before going on the station live, countered Pressley's case by saying the five-term city councilor is not the only candidate in the race who knows what it's like to be underestimated.
The former Somerville mayor first won his seat in Congress by emerging from a crowded 10-person primary that he said he was given little chance of winning to succeed Joseph Kennedy II.
"Yes, I am an incumbent and yes, I have a lot of friends around the district because I do a good job," Capuano said.
He raised the example of how he publicly pressured Keolis to address the disproportionate number of cancellations on the Fairmont commuter rail line, which runs through several minority Boston neighborhoods, and used campaign funds to try to help build ridership on the line with two-weeks of free rides.
"I was the leading voice and when we stopped that practice she was nowhere to be seen," he said.
Capuano's campaign will also be built, in part, around the idea that seniority in Congress matters, particularly if Democrats regain control of the House.
"I would never give short shrift to seniority," Pressley said. "I don't know that it's fore of the minds of the residents of the 7th Congressional district."