In the crass and calculating world of Boston politics, a rising political star tends to be seen as a threat, and brings out the long knives. You might expect that to be the case with first-term city councilor Ayanna Pressley, who has generated so much buzz and enthusiasm that some City Hall officials were privately referring to her as "Elvis" even before she got elected in 2009.
Yet the opposite seems to be the case. Even as she faces the very real possibility of defeat this November, Pressley is receiving support and gushing praise from most of Boston's political figures.
Many of her fellow city councilors have attended her campaign events, and publicly advocate for her re-election. That includes all three of her fellow at-large incumbents, who are not only on the ballot against her this November — those four, plus former councilor Michael Flaherty, are vying for the four at-large seats — but are likely future competitors for higher office.
Even more striking, Mayor Tom Menino himself co-hosted a Pressley fundraiser last month, where he introduced her. This is something he frequently does for district councilors, but rarely for citywide officials, who represent much greater threats to his own power.
"Pressley is a terrific advocate for causes that really matter to the people of Boston," Menino told me at the fundraiser. "Other people sometimes talk about frivolous things that can make headlines, but she works on issues that make a difference."
Other officials, and political insiders, describe Pressley as a "tremendous talent" and "dynamic candidate" with a limitless future — someone who could easily one day be congresswoman, mayor, or just about anything else. They praise her work on the City Council, in advocating causes of women and community health, as well as in building coalitions and working effectively within the system for results.
To be sure, some of this may be self-serving. Allying oneself with Pressley presumably helps pols like at-large councilors John Connolly and Stephen Murphy look good to women, minorities, progressives, and other "New Bostonians" who adore her. Some, including Menino, may be trying to co-opt her, thinking that by helping her now, they may dissuade her from running against them down the line.
Regardless, the support makes her seem like a stand-out superstar, garnering genuine admiration throughout the often tough-to-persuade Boston political crowd.
And yet some — even some Pressley supporters — find it all a little overblown. Yes, Pressley has been impressive, they say, and nearly everyone credits her as a hard worker, both in City Hall and out in the neighborhoods.
But, they counter, she hasn't been more impressive than Felix Arroyo, or John Connolly, or Mark Ciommo, who have also made their mark on the council in a short time. Nor does Pressley necessarily show greater political talents than Tito Jackson or Matt O'Malley, who blew away their competitors to win open district seats. And that's not even looking at the impressive Bostonians rising in the state legislature and elsewhere.
And after all, if Pressley is such a political powerhouse, why does conventional wisdom say she'll be voted out of office later this year?
That November challenge may actually help explain much of the headliner support. Pressley may represent a potential political threat, but not one as great or immediate as Flaherty.