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Pemberton, BC ’89, Launches Senate Primary Against Markey, BC ’68

The 2020 Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary will officially feature a face-off between two Boston College alumni. Steve Pemberton, BC ’89, announced his challenge against sitting Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, BC ’68 and BC Law ’72, in a launch video Tuesday. Pemberton received an honorary doctorate from BC in 2015 and is also a member of BC’s Board of Trustees.

Pemberton’s launch video highlights his life story: Placed into foster care at just 3 years old, he relied on the kindness of neighbors, school officials, and teachers to make his way in the world. 

After graduating from BC, Pemberton first worked as a college admissions counselor before moving into the business world—he worked as a high-level executive for, a job search engine; Walgreens Boots Alliance, a pharmaceutical holding company; and Workhuman, a Framingham-based human resources company.

“When I think about those early years, and the prediction that was made of my life—‘not a chance in the world’—had you gone back and [said], ‘This man is going to one day be a candidate for the United States Senate,’ nobody would have believed you,” Pemberton said in his launch video.

Markey, 72, arrived in the Senate through a 2013 special election to replace John Kerry, BC Law ’76, who left the seat to serve as former president Barack Obama’s second secretary of state. Markey won a full six-year term the following year. Before his time in the Senate, he had represented Massachusetts’ Seventh Congressional District since 1976—making him the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation.

Markey has used his time in the Senate to position himself solidly on the body’s left flank, especially on combating climate change—he helped author and introduce the Green New Deal, an ambitious and far-reaching resolution, earlier this year. He currently serves on the Environment and Public Works; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Foreign Relations; and Commerce, Science, and Transportation Senate committees.

The incumbent is the 10th-most popular sitting senator, according to Morning Consult, whose polling gives him a 53 percent approval rating and a 23 percent disapproval rating. 

Pemberton made a point of drawing a biographical contrast with Markey rather than diverging on policy.

“I don’t see this race as a choice between me and Ed Markey,” he said in his launch video. “His legacy and his commitment is an honorable one and has been an important one. At the same time, here in Massachusetts we are aware of the time for a new generation and new voices who come with a different set of expectations and, in my case, a different set of life experiences.”

He also noted that electing a black man to the Senate would strengthen the voice of a group typically left underrepresented in government.

“I’m an example why you should make the investments and commitments in those who are the most vulnerable in our society,” Pemberton said in an interview with Politico. “I like to think that my life arc, my life journey that began in such a perilous place, that was embodied in that prediction for me: not a chance in the world. Things turned out a bit differently for me.”

Both Pemberton and Markey have kept close ties with the University over the years. Pemberton received an honorary degree in 2015. After speaking at convocation in 2016, he returned as a member of the Board of Trustees later that year amid efforts to add a diversity of perspectives to the board and the University at large.

Markey has returned to campus several times since ascending to the Senate, typically lecturing on a wide variety of issues, which have ranged from environmental protection to gun violence.

Reports that Pemberton was considering jumping into the race surfaced in early June. He follows Shannon Liss-Riordan, a workers’ rights lawyer, in challenging Markey. Liss-Riordan announced her run in late May. Like Pemberton, she has argued that the Commonwealth needs a fresh voice in the Senate.

Markey has raised almost $2 million in the first six months of 2019 and has over $4 million in the bank, according to Federal Election Committee reports that cover the first half of the year. Liss-Riordan loaned herself $1 million to kickstart her campaign. She has raised just over $145,000 from other sources and ended June with a bit less than $1 million in the bank, according to the FEC. Pemberton announced his campaign after the most recent reporting deadline, so there is no FEC data available.

Markey is not the only Massachusetts Democrat to face a challenger from within the party. Representatives Richard Neal, Joe Kennedy III, Seth Moulton, and Stephen Lynch will run in contested primaries next year as well.

Featured Image by Jack Goldman / Heights Editor

July 25, 2019