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September 19, 2019

Milton Times: Nearly a year in office, Pressley’s stride remains strong

Within minutes of the clock striking 3:15 p.m. and the first day of school over for Tucker Elementary School first to fifth-graders, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District greets the boys and girls as they stream by.

“I’m your congresswoman,” she said to the students. “I work for you.”

By 4 p.m., Pressley and Communications Director Kalina Francis are meeting with Milton Times employees. Pressley is wearing a black pantsuit, stylish shoes, her trademark hair braids and an enthusiastic smile. The gentle hum of the office’s large freshwater fish tank fills a momentary silence before introductions begin.

Pressley appears comfortable and relaxed.

When asked about what it’s like being in the political spotlight, Pressley pauses for a minute.

She described feeling the tug of a long distance commuting-for-work lifestyle. Each week, she works on and files bicameral legislation with other members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle. When she flies home to Boston from Washington, D.C., the joy of being able to see her husband Conan Harris, step-daughter Cora and cat Sojourner Truth (or “SoJo”) is tempered with the knowledge that she’ll have to leave all of them after the weekend to return to work at the Capitol. Pressley is not complaining; she’s acknowledging the dedication she brings to her work and her family.

She graduated from the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago and headed east to college, earning her degree from Boston University.

Her foray into local politics came on Nov. 3, 2009, when she was elected as the first woman of color to the Boston City Council. She was re-elected in 2011 and 2013 and received the greatest number of votes. A Democrat, she is focused on what she wants to accomplish as a congresswoman and is serious and determined when she describes her work in Washington.

“I was an aide before I was elected,” referring to her work as a senior aide for four years for U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and 11 years for U.S. Sen. John Kerry.

To be in Congress is to address issues of scale, she said. As she did when she was elected to the Boston City Council, Pressley also is the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts.

“Given the state of our democracy and the climate of our country, it seems logical to say it has never been more important than to be there now,” she said.

What Pressley worked on while a member of the Boston City Council — how to increase economic opportunities for women and girls plus reduce poverty, violence and social decay — she brings to Washington.

“It’s a huge platform,” she said, adding that she is “mindful of responsibly using that platform.”

In doing so, she said she wants to be thoughtful and deliberate. She said she feels daunted by the gravity of Con- gress’s work and she remains determined.

She speaks of pinklining, the female equivalent of redlining, where women are more likely to receive higher interest rates on loans or face difficult financial negotiations because of their gender.

Pressley returns fairly regularly to meet with her constituents in gerrymandered parts of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Hyde Park, Milton Randolph and Dorchester.

Education, infrastructure, transportation, housing, child care — all are issues key to Pressley. The Mass. 7th district is a mixture of college students, working families and families with more means.

Pressley encourages the people of her district to not be dismayed by the current tense political climate.

She said she understands “there’s a deficit of trust from broken promises, broken systems.”

“I just want people to stand in their power,” she said. “No one is voiceless. What they are, is unheard.”

In her tenure so far in Congress, Pressley has introduced 10 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored about 140 other Acts. Her class of federal lawmakers, one of Congress’s largest and most diverse memberships, served during the longest federal government shutdown. Federal workers missed two pay periods when many of them could not go to work from Dec. 22, 2018, until Jan. 25 of this year. She said she is hopeful a shutdown will not happen again.

Immigration issues, especially of family separations at the Texas/Mexican border, need to be resolved, she explained.

“It really bothered me and it felt in conflict with the values we espouse in the world,” said Pressley.

On a TV late-night talk show and in the Times’ office, she does not name the current U.S. president, instead calling Donald Trump an “occupant” of the White House.

She is hopeful that people who live in her district, especially in Boston, will participate in the 2020 census.

The cost of living in that district is another concern. It’s prompting her to introduce legislation to avoid huge rent increases and avoid tenant evictions.

“Sixty percent of the Mass. 7 are renters,” Pressley said, noting that more than 30 percent of renters’ take-home pay is spent on housing and utilities.

Health care is another topic important to Pressley for legislative review and action, namely the increasing price of prescription drugs and maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

On Sept. 10, Pressley’s bill, “the Healthy MOMMIES Act,” was set to be discussed during a House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing on maternal mortality.

Pressley’s statement outlines H.R. 2602’s premise: “The US is one of 13 countries in the world where maternal mortality rates are worse than they were 25 years ago, with black and native women dying at four times the rate of white women due to preventable pregnancy complications. The Healthy MOMMIES Act provides the bold policy solutions needed to tackle the maternal mortality crisis — including extending Medicaid coverage, expanding access to culturally- competent community-based doula services, and establishing a Maternity Care Home demonstration project. I thank Chairman [Frank] Pallone and Subcommittee Chairwoman [Anna] Eshoo for their partnership in addressing the maternal mortality crisis by holding a hearing on my bill and other reproductive justice proposals.”

Pressley continues to be in the forefront of legislation. On Tuesday, Sept. 17, news headlines announced Pressley’s intent to introduce an impeachment resolution to remove Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from office regarding undisclosed allegations of sexual misconduct during his college years.