Pemberton, BC ’89, Drops Out of U.S. Senate Primary

Steve Pemberton, BC ’89, announced his withdrawal from the 2020 Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary on Monday. Pemberton, who is also a member of the Boston College Board of Trustees, the 2016 convocation speaker, and a recipient of a 2015 honorary doctorate from the University, announced his challenge to incumbent Senator Ed Markey, BC ’68 and BC Law ’72, in late July.

With his exit, Pemberton leaves workers’ rights lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan and U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III, the son of former Representative Joe Kennedy II, grandson of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the sitting representative for Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district, in the race against Markey.

“I also ran into an impenetrable wall of legacy and birthright—of incumbency and connections— that so often has stifled and blocked diverse and urgent voices from succeeding in the political arena,” Pemberton said in a Facebook post.

Pemberton criticized the pushback he faced for challenging an incumbent, writing that political insiders threatened to blacklist anyone helping challengers’ campaigns despite publicly praising “the importance of diversity and inclusivity.” He also pointed to the fundraising advantages that incumbent politicians use to protect their positions.

“But until we really challenge this rigged system that favors wealth, longevity and legacy, the public will be denied true choice in the voting booth and will be forced to pick between subtlety different shades of the same political establishment candidates,” he said in the post.

A Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll taken in early September—before Kennedy entered the race—found that Kennedy led Markey, 35 percent to 26 percent, among likely 2020 primary voters. Pemberton and Liss-Riordan registered at just 1 percent each.

Markey, who is 73, gained his Senate seat through a 2013 special election after John Kerry, BC Law ’76, left to become former president Barack Obama’s second secretary of state. Markey won a full term the following year. Before his time in the Senate, he had represented Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District since 1976.

During his time in Congress, Markey has positioned himself on the left side of the Democratic Party: He helped author the Green New Deal alongside U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He currently serves on the Environment and Public Works; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Foreign Relations; and Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees.

“I thank Steve Pemberton for his contribution to this primary race and for his commitment to running a campaign that elevated the voices of the marginalized so that their potential could be maximized,” Markey said in a statement on Monday. “His platform of lived experience reflects a wellspring of compassion and a dedication to the needs of those whose voices are too often missing from public debate and policymaking.”

Pemberton, who entered the foster care system at age 3, made his biography a central part of his campaign—in his launch video, he said he would offer a generational and experiential contrast with Markey, rather than a divergence on policy.

He drew on his story in his withdrawal announcement, writing that it was the kindness of others that inspired him in his attempt to effect change for fellow Bay Staters through his campaign.

“I still believe we should have a government that reflects the diversity of experience in America and is filled with representatives who understand the challenges people face every day because they have lived them,” he said in the post.

Featured Image by Jack Goldman. / Senior News Correspondent

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