In a move aimed at blunting the identity politics that threatens his 20-year career in Congress, US Representative Michael Capuano has lined up an endorsement from Massachusetts’s most prominent black political figure — former governor Deval Patrick — in his primary against City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.
Patrick, saying the congressman had been in the “trenches,’’ released a statement Thursday saying he was backing Capuano over Pressley in the race, which has been noted for both for its racial implications and its generational political divide. Pressley, 44, was the first woman of color elected to the City Council.
“Everything about his challenger and her campaign makes me proud,’’ Patrick said via a statement in which he did not mention Pressley by name.
“But Mike was with me in the trenches, and I appreciate how hard he worked with me in tough times and out of public view for the good of the people of the Commonwealth,” he said.
Patrick, who was the state’s first black governor when he was elected in 2006, cited Capuano for working with him on the Green Line extension, increasing affordable housing opportunities, and rebuilding community health centers.
Capuano’s Boston-based district has a majority of minority residents, while Pressley, who would become the state’s first black US representative, is part of a new crop of political leaders, both in Massachusetts and across the country, challenging an older generation.
In recent months Capuano has touted support from prominent black leaders, including US Representative John Lewis, who is expected to make a campaign appearance in the district with the congressman later this month when the Civil Rights icon comes to Harvard University to address its commencement ceremony.
Patrick’s statement is the second major endorsement for Capuano in the last several weeks. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, whom Capuano supported in his first race for mayor in 2013, threw his backing to the 66-year old congressman late last month.
But the former governor’s endorsement of Capuano is not altogether surprising. In the lead-up to the 2006 gubernatorial election, Capuano went against the Democratic political establishment, which was backing then Attorney General Thomas Reilly for governor, and came out for Patrick when the future governor seemed like long-shot to win the party’s nomination.
His breaking ranks with his party colleagues was a major boost to Patrick’s fledgling candidacy. It also established a close working relationship between the two Democrats that proved particularly helpful for Patrick early in his first term when he was struggling to cope with the insular politics of Beacon Hill.
Capuano, who had worked as a staff member to a House committee and served as Somerville mayor for eight years, served as an important bridge to the sharp-edged political figures who ran the State House.
The district — which runs from Chelsea, Somerville, much of Cambridge, through the minority communities of Boston and south to Milton and Randolph — has a majority of minority residents, but not necessarily a majority of minority voters.
Pressley did not respond directly to Patrick’s endorsement, but her senior adviser, Wilnelia Rivera, in a statement, touted the campaign’s progress in dropping off more 2,300 signatures to put the candidate on the ballot.
“This campaign is building an inclusive movement for every single voice that sees the potential of what is truly possible here,’’ Rivera said in a statement.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.