A JP resident running her first campaign engineered At-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s stunning turnaround from vulnerable incumbent to topping the ticket in the Nov. 8 election.
“We took nothing for granted. To some degree, at the beginning, we were fighting for fourth place,” said Jessica Taubner, who took a leave of absence as Pressley’s policy director to run the candidate’s campaign, told the Gazette. “I tried to maintain that sense of urgency throughout the campaign.”
Those efforts paid off. After finishing fourth in 2009 with about 15 percent of the vote, Pressley got a little over 21 percent this time. In JP, she got over 25 percent of the vote and finished strong throughout the city, coming in second in West Roxbury and third in Charlestown, Taubner said.
Taubner, a former Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member and Democratic activist whose first job was on Gov. Deval Patrick’s first campaign in 2006, had plenty of reasons for urgency.
“More or less, the campaign started and her mom went into the hospital,” Taubner said. Pressley’s mother’s extended illness and passing was tough because it took the candidate off the trail for weeks, but it had a deeper impact on the operation, as well.
“It was one of the most tragic, painful things I have been through. Mama Pressley was an integral part of our team,” Taubner said. “It was challenging not only having Ayanna unavailable, but having someone you love and care about hurting.”
But, after her mother passed away in July, Pressley got right back to work, Taubner said. “She was back out campaigning two days later.”
That work ethic contributed to the campaign’s success, but it was also a combination of alchemy and strategy that brought her out on top, Taubner said.
Pressley “was committed to making a citywide run,” Taubner told the Gazette.
Some, she said, criticized that strategy, saying that, “In a race like this, you should focus on your base.” But it paid off to focus on groups like communities of color in JP, that usually have low voter turnouts, and to ignore “stereotypes” about things like West Roxbury being a tough place for a Pressley, who is black, to get support, she said.
“We did not buy into that conventional wisdom,” Taubner said.
Taubner admitted that Pressley also benefited from robust support from Mayor Thomas Menino and from a partnership she forged with At-Large City Councilor John Connolly, a West Roxbury resident.
Connolly, in particular, helped Pressley with a strong showing in West Roxbury, Taubner said. “He helped get her into a lot of rooms it would have been challenging for her to get into on her own,” she said. And, once she got there, “Her message resonated.”
Asked how she thought high-level support and the campaign’s internal strategy interplayed to construct the overall win, Taubner said, “We got lots of support, but you can get all the support bodies-wise and dollars-wise you need, but if you don’t have a plan, it does not benefit you. I worked very hard to utilize all the support we developed.”
And, she said, “We did it the way we wanted to.”
That meant huge “ground game,” Taubner said. In JP, 70 volunteers knocked on 3,600 doors an average of 2.5 times, she said, and 10 volunteers covered the four Orange Line T stations in the mornings and evenings. Taubner herself “spent the last 20 minutes of Election Day making phone calls,” she said.
In her final estimation, Taubner chalked the success of the campaign up to Pressley. “It’s a testament to her agenda…When you meet her, you understand what is at stake and why we need her on the council. Her voice speaking about families and violence resonates in every neighborhood.”
That is what got Taubner hooked in, she said. She met Pressley and was hired as the then-newly minted city councilor’s policy director shortly after the 2009 election. With a master’s in public health with a focus on maternal and child health, her interests dovetailed nicely with Pressley’s, she said. And her immediate plans are to get back to it. “I am excited to build on this new momentum and build a platform at City Hall,” Taubner said.