Tompkins challenger says he shouldn’t moderate DA debate
Should Suffolk sheriff preside over candidate forum while a candidate himself?
IT’S AN UNUSUAL setting for a candidate forum, but one with an audience that has a vested interest in the policies of the office being sought. The two candidates vying for Suffolk district attorney in next month’s Democratic primary will square off at a forum on Thursday in front of a group of men and women being held at the Suffolk County House of Correction.
While the setting may be unusual, it’s the moderator who is drawing some attention. Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, who is himself a candidate in next month’s primary, is scheduled to oversee the forum. That fact has his challenger crying foul.
“I don’t believe he should be the moderator,” said Sandy Zamor Calixte, who is challenging Tompkins in the September 6 Democratic primary. Calixte said Tompkins’s role moderating the DA forum will give him unfair media exposure and visibility less than four weeks before the primary.
What’s more, Calixte said, she was notified on Monday that Tompkins has backed out of a scheduled forum in their race that was to take place later the same day.
“To me, this shows his lack of commitment by focusing on other races and not his own,” said Calixte, who served as chief of external affairs and communications under Tompkins before stepping down to run against him. Calixte said Tompkins also backed out of a scheduled forum in June with two Boston Democratic ward committees.
Tompkins’s office did not return a message asking about Calixite’s charge that it’s inappropriate for him to moderate Thursday’s candidate forum for the DA’s race.
Tompkins is a savvy political player who served under former sheriff Andrea Cabral in the same communications role Calixte later held. In 2013, he was appointed to the sheriff’s position by then-Gov. Deval Patrick when Cabral joined his cabinet as public safety secretary. Tompkins went on to win election in 2014 to serve the remainder of Cabral’s six-year term, and was then reelected in 2016.
Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden, who was appointed to the post in January by Gov. Charlie Baker when Rachael Rollins resigned to become US attorney, and his challenger, City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, are scheduled to answer questions from a group of incarcerated men and women at the House of Correction at 11 a.m. on Thursday.
Holding a candidate forum for district attorney behind the bars of the facility where prosecutors send people is not unprecedented. Tompkins convened a similar session in 2018 during that year’s contest for Suffolk DA. But he was not on the ballot that year.Hayden’s campaign did not return a message Wednesday morning about the forum.
Arroyo’s campaign manager said they welcome the chance to appear at the House of Correction. “We believe it is important for those who are incarcerated to be given access to our democracy and this forum provides an opportunity for us to speak directly to them,” said Mohammed Missouri. As for the issue of Tompkins moderating the event, he said, “We don’t organize the forums. We just show up.”