Rep. Michael Capuano has been a progressive presence in Congress for nearly 20 years. Known as much for his staunch — and vocal — advocacy in Washington, D.C., as his record of securing funding for projects back home, Capuano has enjoyed high popularity in the deeply liberal 7th District.
He’s now facing the challenge of his congressional career from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who’s aspiring to become Massachusetts’s first black person elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s Democratic state primary election.
Pressley’s campaign has garnered attention for its historic nature, but Capuano said his record of advocacy and results for the Boston-area district, which is the only majority nonwhite congressional district in Massachusetts, has earned him another term.
The 66-year-old Democrat thinks voters care about electing someone who can do more — and stand up to President Donald Trump.
“I’m running for re-election because I am the best fighter for the people of my district,” Capuano told Boston.com in a statement. “I won’t stop fighting President Trump, and I will be the most effective advocate for the people of this district by using my experience and know-how, passion, and commitment to stand up against Trump and fight for our values, our families, our seniors, and our neighborhoods.”
What has he done?
Capuano was born in Somerville to first-generation Irish and Italian immigrants. After graduating from Dartmouth College and Boston College Law School, he returned to Somerville and at 25 won a seat on the city’s Board of Alderman. He served a total of three terms on the board, during which he authored the city’s original “sanctuary city” ordinance.
In 1989, he launched his third campaign for Somerville’s mayor and won.
He served as mayor of Somerville from 1990 to 1999, when he decided to run for the Congressional seat of retiring Rep. Joe Kennedy II. Boosted by turnout from his hometown, Capuano won in a 10-candidate Democratic primary, which included early frontrunner and former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, to virtually secure the seat.
“Despite the lofty history of the Eighth — the political home of President Kennedy, the longtime House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. and Boston’s Rascal King Mayor, James Michael Curley — the race appeared to devolve down to the most retail of retail politics,” The New York Times reported at the time. “A poll commissioned by The Boston Herald found that among voters who supported Mr. Capuano, a full 44 percent had met him.”
A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Capuano has been an outspoken critic of Wall Street, of both public and private encroachments on individual privacy, and of overseas military action. He has produced viral moments with his scathing speeches in committee hearings, bucked the Democratic party line to vote against the Iraq War and the No Child Left Behind education bill, and sued both the Bush and Obama administrations over their executive war powers.
Capuano also has advocated for a single-payer health care system in the United States long before it became a mainstream position in the Democratic Party. The congressman also has perfect ratings from pro-choice groups, the NAACP, environmental advocates, LGBTQ-rights groups, and unions.
“He is equally proud of his F rating from the NRA,” Capuano’s campaign website reads.
Back in the district, Capuano’s campaign points to his record securing $30 million in federal funding for a major housing redevelopment in Roxbury and increasing funding for community health centers and medical research. As the only Massachusetts representative on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Capuano also said he helped to get funding of local transit projects like the Green Line Extension and the Ruggles Station renovation.
Where he and Pressley disagree:
Capuano and Pressley both admit that their voting record in Congress would be very similar, if not virtually the same. But a few policy disagreements have surfaced during their primary race.
Pressley came out in favor of defunding Immigration and Customs Enforcement this summer, but Capuano wasn’t so eager to jump on board. He voted against the initial creation of ICE in 2002, but the congressman argued that the more important reform was “to get rid of Donald Trump.”
“He’s the one who tells them what policies to enact and that, to me, is the most important thing,” Capuano said during an Aug. 7 debate. “His policies, as enforced by ICE, have been the main focus of my issues when it comes to immigration.”
Capuano also said he would be willing to vote for funding a southern border wall or fence in return for other reforms to the country’s immigration policies, such as protecting certain legal residents from deportation. Pressley said she would not compromise on her opposition to any form of border wall.
Both candidates fiercely oppose Trump’s policies. While Capuano voted to proceed with impeachment hearings last December, he said he wouldn’t indict anyone on the “basis of news reports.” In an Aug. 15 debate, the congressman said the House needs to first conduct its investigation before he would vote to impeach the president. Pressley said she believes there is already a “confluence of evidence” that Trump is unfit to lead, though she struggled to name specific impeachable offenses.
The two have also differed on foreign intervention. Capuano said he would end U.S. military involvement in Syria and Afghanistan, while Pressley said she would keep the country’s options open. (Read more about their various policy differences here and here.)
Beyond their particular issue-based disagreements, the crux of the race between Capuano and Pressley comes down to a debate between seniority and representation.
Pressley believes that the 7th District would be best served at the national level by a person of color. Capuano, however, believes that, no matter his own race, his progressive record and experience make him better positioned to deliver results for the people he represents.
“That’s advocacy: knowing how to get things done, knowing how to get things done for the benefits of this district,” he said during their earlier debate. “Votes are part of what we do, but the advocacy behind those votes … is just as important on a regular basis, and my record shows we do both.”
Capuano has received the backing of a broad coalition of both local and national Democratic-aligned political and union groups (the Human Rights Campaign, the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee, and the National Education Association, among others), as well as most of his peers in the Massachusetts congressional delegation. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Reps. Niki Tsongas and Seth Moulton are staying neutral in the race.
He also has the endorsement of Mayor Marty Walsh. In his endorsement, Walsh called the congressman “one of the strongest champions for working people and urban communities in all of America.”
Capuano’s supporters also include prominent state and national black political figures, such as California Rep. Maxine Waters, Georga Rep. John Lewis, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who called him “one of the most tenacious and determined people I know, in or out of government.”
“Everything about his challenger and her campaign makes me proud,” Patrick said. “But Mike was with me in the trenches, and I appreciate how hard he worked with me in tough times and out of public view for the good of the people of the Commonwealth.”