DA races drawing candidates and attention
Controversy and new political context give challengers an opening in DA races
Back in December, when the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts launched a voter education campaign targeting the state’s district attorneys, it seemed like a long shot. After all, races for district attorney are located pretty far down the ballot, places where the power of incumbency usually rules.
But as election season starts to heat up, races for district attorney are drawing candidates and attention. Passage of criminal justice reform legislation on Beacon Hill is providing a political context for some of the races — are new DAs needed to accompany a new approach to public safety that is more focused on keeping people out of the criminal justice system? In other races, controversy is giving challengers an opening.
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early is coming under fire for meddling in the handling of a State Police report on the drunken driving arrest of a judge’s daughter. Attorney General Maura Healey issued a report Friday saying no criminal laws were violated, but she referred the matter to the State Ethics Commission for review.
Early, who was first elected in 2006, has twice run unopposed for reelection. This year he is facing Blake Rubin, an independent who launched his campaign shortly after the controversy over the drunken driving report first surfaced. Rubin, whose campaign slogan is “Justice not politics,” on Monday called on Early to resign for his involvement in altering the arrest document.
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan is facing a challenge from Donna Patalano, a former Suffolk County prosecutor who lives in Winchester and seems to have cribbed her campaign playbook from the ACLU website. Patalano has called Ryan’s office a “black box” and promised more transparency and accountability about how the justice system works if she is elected.The most wide open DA’s race of all is in Suffolk County, where the incumbent Dan Conley stunned everyone in February by announcing he was stepping down at the end of this term. His announcement has set off a scramble among five candidates, most of whom are using talking points straight off the ACLU website.
It’s still too early to say whether the lineup of DAs in Massachusetts will change much in November, but it’s clear that district attorney races are assuming a much higher profile this year than they have in the past.