Hayden wins Suffolk DA race in tough night for reformers

Berkshire’s DA Harrington loses her seat

SUFFOLK COUNTY’S interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden fended off a strong challenge from Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in Tuesday’s acrimony-filled Democratic primary for district attorney, in a tough night across the state for reform-minded district attorney candidates.

Two other progressive politicians seeking their county’s top prosecutorial position also lost their races: Berkshire County incumbent District Attorney Andrea Harrington and Bristol County challenger Shannon McMahon. 

While all of these candidates were trying to reform the state’s criminal justice systems from the left, different factors were at play in each race, particularly in the Hayden-Arroyo showdown, where years-old allegations of sexual assault against Arroyo dominated the race’s final weeks and saw his support from prominent progressive figures crumble.

The Associated Press called the race for Hayden just before midnight. At the time, Hayden was leading with 55 percent of the vote, with 73 percent of the vote counted.

Hayden spent a decade in the Suffolk County district attorney’s office as a prosecutor, worked for five years as a criminal defense attorney, and was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker to lead the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board. In January, Baker picked Hayden to become interim district attorney after DA Rachael Rollins was appointed US attorney for Massachusetts.

Hayden calls himself a liberal prosecutor, but is widely seen as more centrist than Arroyo. He has made cracking down on gun violence a signature issue. He supports maintaining a gang database and has stepped away from strict adherence to Rollins’s do-not-prosecute list of 15 lower-level offenses.

Arroyo was a public defender for four years before he was elected to the Boston City Council in 2019. Arroyo supported ending qualified immunity for police officers, continuing Rollins’ policies of not prosecuting certain low-level offenses, limiting the use of cash bail, and ending mandatory minimum sentences.

But policy differences in the race became largely overshadowed by scandals. The Boston Globe published a story questioning Hayden’s commitment to pursuing an investigation of misconduct by a Transit Police officer that Rollins had started, and Hayden’s general commitment to addressing police misconduct. 

Then the Globe published a bombshell report that Arroyo was twice investigated for sexual assault, when he was 18 and 19 years old, although no charges were ever filed. The Arroyo story continued to unfold in the final days of the campaign, as one alleged victim stood by her accusations and police files were unsealed showing that the police concluded that no crime was committed. Hayden emphasized that the finding did not mean authorities did not believe the alleged victim’s account. Arroyo not only denied any assault allegations, he maintained that he was never even aware of them at the time, a claim that was undercut by police records saying a detective spoke with him and showing that he had hired a lawyer.

In two other DA races on Tuesday more liberal candidates also came up short. 

In Berkshire County, Harrington was elected DA in 2018 on a reform-minded platform similar to Rollins. But Harrington lost her seat on Tuesday to Democratic primary challenger Timothy Shugrue, a former prosecutor with experience prosecuting child abuse, sexual assault, and other serious crimes. 

Shugrue had criticized Harrington for being too soft on crime. Harrington also faced accusations that she had mismanaged the office. Several progressive groups that endorsed in other races stayed out of Harrington’s contest.

Shugrue declared victory around 10 p.m. He will become the next Berkshire district attorney, since no Republicans are running for the seat. 

Former prosecutor Shannon McMahon gave Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn his first challenge in seven years in the Democratic primary, but Quinn overwhelmingly won, with around 65 percent of the vote when the race was called in his favor. He will keep the job he has held since 2015, since there are no Republicans running for the seat. 

Quinn has touted his work aggressively prosecuting drug, gun, and gang cases and increasing the use of dangerousness hearings. McMahon, the first woman to run for that seat, is a former Bristol County prosecutor and a civil trial attorney, who had pledged to focus on specialty courts. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

In yet another blow for reform-minded candidates seeking criminal justice positions, clinical social worker Virginia Leigh was trailing Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger, who had 53 percent of the vote in that county’s sheriff race with just over half the votes counted as of midnight. Leigh had argued that the sheriff’s job was one of human services rather than law enforcement. Coppinger is a former Lynn police chief who was first elected sheriff in 2016.