Tompkins to face challenge from longtime sheriff’s department official

Sandy Zamor Calixte says the corrections agency needs new leadership

A VETERAN OFFICIAL of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department says the correctional agency can do better and vowed that she’s ready to lead the way. Sandy Zamor Calixte, who has served as chief of external affairs and communications under Sheriff Steve Tompkins, announced Wednesday morning that she plans to challenge him in this September’s Democratic primary.

“For the last two decades, I have done the work behind the scenes to make the department  more equitable, transparent and community centered,” Zamor Calixte said in her announcement outside the Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan. “But after working within the system behind the scenes and advocating behind the scenes, it is clear to me the only way to implement the change that we need for the community and the employees at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department is new leadership. I am that new leadership.” 

Zamor Calixte, a 48-year-old Mattapan resident, said she resigned her position yesterday and told Tompkins of her plans to run for the office. 

“I have tremendous respect for the current sheriff,” she said in her kickoff speech. “But this is not about one person. It’s about changing a system to get people the services they need to have a second chance, because far too many people in our community have not ever been given a first chance.” 

For too long, she said, community residents, especially Black and Latino people, have been denied “the education, opportunity, and the resources they deserve” and “as a direct result of government policies they end up in the correctional system.” Once there, she said, they are too often denied the opportunities needed “to reenter our community successfully.” Zamor Calixte said there are programs in the sheriff’s department aimed at reducing recidivism, but she said they need to be expanded and strengthened.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Zamor Calixte started at the sheriff’s department in 2006 as the coordinator of community outreach and youth programming. She has bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in criminal justice, both from Northeastern University.

Former state representative Marie St. Fleur, who was among the dozen supporters at Zamor Calixte’s announcement, said she brings a deep knowledge of the correctional system’s pros and cons. “She has the passion for trying to figure out how to do it better and differently. I think that’s what we’re all about right now,” said St. Fleur. 

Asked about Zamor Calixte’s challenge, Tompkins said he “did not see this coming,” but said “that is what democracy is all about.” He said he plans to seek reelection this fall, and touted his record moving the department from a punitive approach to corrections to one focused on rehabilitation. 

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Tompkins held the same external affairs position under former sheriff Andrea Cabral that Zamor Calixte had under his administration. He was appointed to the sheriff’s post in 2013 by then-Gov. Deval Patrick when he tapped Cabral to serve as his public safety secretary. Tompkins was then elected in 2014 to fill out the remainder of Cabral’s term, and was reelected in 2016 to a full six-year term. 

He easily beat two Democratic primary challengers in 2014 and an unenrolled candidate running in the general election, and defeated a primary challenger in 2016.