BOSTON (AP) — If not for Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s upset win over longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary, attention this week might have shifted to the defeats of two veteran Democratic Boston state lawmakers.
Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez lost his re-election bid to Nika Elugardo. Rep. Byron Rushing was defeated by Jon Santiago.
The ousters of Sanchez and Rushing are notable outside of their districts. Both are top members of Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team.
Sanchez is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, charged with writing the House version of the state budget each year and helping negotiate a final compromise version of the spending plan with the Senate. Rushing holds the job of assistant majority leader.
Sanchez and Rushing are also two of the highest-profile and longer-serving minority lawmakers in the House.
Sanchez, who once worked as the late Mayor Thomas Menino’s liaison to the Hispanic community, has served in the Massachusetts House since 2003. Rushing was first elected to the chamber in 1982.
Ironically for Sanchez, it was his rise to one of the most powerful posts in the House that may have been his undoing.
Elugardo had made immigration a key issue in the campaign, criticizing Sanchez for not insisting upon language in the final version of the state budget that called for sharp limits on cooperation between police and federal immigration officials.
Sanchez said he personally supported that language, but there wasn’t enough backing in the House for it. While the House Ways and Means chairman writes the House budget, little gets into the final document if it’s opposed by the House speaker, in this case Robert DeLeo.
At a Democratic Unity event the day after Tuesday’s election, DeLeo noted that the vast number of Democrats — who hold an overwhelming majority in the 160-member chamber — won their re-election campaigns.
“I think it was a good night for the Democratic House and I’m proud of our results,” said DeLeo, who didn’t say who might replace Sanchez and Rushing in the key leadership posts next year.
DeLeo, who has served as speaker for the past decade, also portrayed himself as someone who forges agreements in a sometimes fractious chamber.
“For those folks who do know me, they know that I’m a consensus builder. I work on compromise,” DeLeo told reporters. “It’s not very uncommon that I could have anywhere from two people to 20 people in my office to try to work consensus out.”
Elugardo, who had worked as a policy adviser for Democratic state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Santiago, an emergency medicine resident at Boston Medical Center, face no Republican opponents in the November election and are virtually guaranteed of taking their seats in the House in January.
Among top political figures on Beacon Hill, however, the Pressley win still dominated the news.
Someone with an insider view of the campaign was Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, one of the few elected officials to endorse Pressley over Capuano, who had the backing of Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and former Gov. Deval Patrick, both Democrats.
Pressley had supported Healey during her first campaign for attorney general four years ago.
Healey downplayed the idea of “identity politics” — noting Pressley, who is black, couldn’t have won the district without the support of voters from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Still, Healey said, voters can find inspiration in candidates who may look like them or reflect something of their life circumstances.
Healey, who is gay, said she learned that during her first campaign.
“When I was running and even after I won people came up to me and said quietly thank you, my son’s trans, my daughter’s gay, thank you for running and showing that it’s possible to get elected to a position like attorney general being who you are,” Healey told reporters Wednesday.
“If that serves as a point of inspiration or a point of hope for some person out there, I think that’s always a positive and wonderful thing.”