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What’s the truth on Arroyo in Suffolk DA’s race? Does it matter?

Amid a generally sleepy primary election campaign season, the contest for Suffolk County district attorney stands out. The race has been rocked by an explosive report in the Boston Globe that Ricardo Arroyo, who is challenging sitting DA Kevin Hayden, was the subject of two sexual assault allegations years ago. Arroyo vehemently denies ever assaulting anyone, and neither case resulted in charges against him. 

On this week’s Codcast, Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi and GBH News politics editor Peter Kadzis grappled with two big questions raised by the story: What is the truth of what took place? Does it actually matter in the political context of the race? 

Arroyo is getting pounded from some quarters over the issue, but he and his supporters are also pounding back, trying to put the focus on Hayden by suggesting that he is responsible for leaking confidential police reports on the matter, something the DA denies. 

“I’ve been following Boston politics for a long time, and this is maybe the most brutal race I can remember,” said Kadzis. “It’s just bare knuckle boxing.” 

Vennochi said Arroyo could have simply denied the allegations. But he went further by saying he was never even made aware of them until now, “which put his credibility on the line in a very different way,” she said. 

“To deny that he had any knowledge of this when there were two police reports saying that this was investigated has really left him very little room to maneuver politically,” said Kadzis. 

Vennochi and Kadzis said the story is highlighting a pattern seen in several high-profile cases involving allegations of sexual assult or misconduct by politicians: People seem to filter such charges through the political lens in which they view the person at center of the controversy. 

The result: “Does the truth matter anymore?” Vennochi asked in a column last week. She wrote that it was “hard to believe” Arroyo’s claim to have known nothing about the allegations until questioned recently by Globe reporters. 

Former congressman Joe Kennedy III and Boston City Council President Ed Flynn rescinded endorsements of Arroyo after the story broke, as did Ironworkers Local 7, but so far a long list of progressive pols are sticking with him. 

“You have these top women politicians – Elizabeth Warren, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu – who have all stood up in the past during the so-called me-too movement, who found Brett Kavanaugh completely unacceptable to be a Supreme Court justice on the basis of an allegation of sexual assault that went back to his high school years that I think he said he couldn’t remember, he didn’t do,” said Vennochi. “Arroyo has kind of picked up that same narrative. They didn’t have a police report on Brett Kavanaugh. As Peter pointed out, there are two here.”

People who were determined to vote for Donald Trump didn’t seem to care about the raft of sexual assault allegations against him, just as Joe Biden supporters didn’t seem swayed by much less serious allegations of “inappropriate touching,” said Vennochi. 

Going back further, said Kadzis, “That is the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Women were largely silent because they liked Bill Clinton.” 

Speaking during the Codcast recording on Friday, Vennochi said one thing Wu could do is release redacted police reports from the incidents. Later in the day City Councilor Frank Baker – a Hayden supporter – filed an order seeking such documents, and Arroyo said he supports the move. 

“The silence from the higher-profile progressive Democrats is just deafening,” Kadzis said of reaction to the Arroyo story. “I mean, isn’t someone even going to say, geez, I’d like a more convincing explanation?” 

Boston is hemorrhaging school-aged kids

It’s only a few weeks until students head back to school. In Boston, if this year is like last year, and like many others before that, there will be fewer of them in classrooms this fall. 

Boston has been booming economically, a fact reflected in big population growth in recent decades. The city now claims more than 675,000 residents, according to the 2020 Census, an increase of more than 100,000 from 1980, when Boston’s post-World War II population bottomed out at 563,000. But that population surge has been accompanied by another trendline going the opposite direction: A steep decline in the population of school-age children in the city. In just the two-decade period from 2000 to 2020, Boston’s population of school-aged kids aged 5 to 17 fell by about 10,000 – going from 80,000 to about 70,000. 

It’s a troubling trend, says Will Austin, founder and CEO of the Boston Schools Fund, a nonprofit working to improve quality in Boston schools. “You can define families in many different ways, but the reality is that kids do make neighborhoods,” Austin said on this week’s episode of The Codcast

Austin, 43, grew up in Dorchester and is raising his three school-aged children with his wife in Roslindale. Boston neighborhoods are far different from those of his youth. When he was growing up, Austin said, there were 18 school-age kids on his street, all within three years of age. There was a kind of “community in that space” that is increasingly hard to find in many Boston neighborhoods today. 

There are lots of factors at play, said Austin, but chief among them are the soaring cost of housing in the city and the complicated student assignment process and uneven quality of schools in the district system. 

MNA chief: No shortage of nurses in state

The president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association says there is no shortage of nurses in the state, just a shortage of nurses willing to work under existing staffing conditions.

Hospitals insist they are grappling with a shortage of nurses, forced to hire temporary replacements at enormous cost. A June survey of more than half the state’s acute care hospitals by the Massachusetts Hospital Association found the vacancy rate for nurses had risen from 6.4 percent in 2019 to 13.6 percent in 2022. 

Katie Murphy, president of the nurses association, said there are 25,000 more licensed nurses in the state today than there were in 2019. The problem, she says, is that many of them are unwilling to work under the current conditions, which require them to care for too many patients at a time.

Murphy said some nurses are quitting or retiring, while others are going to medical school or seeking out jobs in less demanding areas of health care. 

“The reason why nurses are walking away is because the conditions in hospitals are so dire,” she said on The Codcast with Paul Hattis of the Lown Institute and John McDonough of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

Murphy said nurses at some hospitals are struggling to keep up with their patient loads, often with inadequate resources. She said nurses at some hospitals are being told they cannot take vacations.

“It’s really hospitals taking advantage of the fact that we’re not going to abandon our patients,” said Murphy, who works in the intensive care unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Many hospitals are bolstering their nursing staff by bringing in traveling nurses, who typically come to work for temporary periods and then move on. Murphy said the traveling nurses are a symptom but not a solution to the staffing problems plaguing the health care system as a whole.

“If you bring in nurses from out of state to fill in for 12 weeks, you’re not fixing the underlying problem,” she said. “Unfortunately, patients will continue to fare poorly and hospitals will fare poorly.” 

The Massachusetts Nurses Association led the charge in 2018 for a ballot question that would have established minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, but it went down to defeat. 

Murphy blamed the loss on a massive hospital effort to defeat the measure and a report from the Health Policy Commission that said the cost of the proposed law could reach nearly $1 billion. 

Hattis asked Murphy whether burnout was a problem for nurses and whether there was a way to address it. Murphy, however, objected to the term. 

“Isn’t that crazy about the word burnout because that kind of puts the onus on me and the bedside nurse when really the one term that people are using more is exploitation,” she said. 

Murphy said nurses are continuing to push for a stronger voice in the workplace. “Nurses seem to have found a greater voice,” she said. “They said, ‘No, we’re the experts, we know what we need, we know what our patients need, we know what hospitals need, now you need to listen to us.’”

Sen. Markey seeks to pack ‘illegitimate’ Supreme Court

US Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has emerged as one of the most forceful critics of the US Supreme Court after recent decisions on abortion, gun licensing, and environmental protection. Markey has called for adding four more seats to the court, to minimize its current conservative tilt.

“If a bully steals your lunch money and you don’t do anything, they’re coming back for more the next time,” Markey said on the Codcast this week. “So the Republicans stole two seats. Just imagine what they’ll do in the next ten years if we do nothing to restore the court’s balance.”

Markey has called the current court “illegitimate.” Pressed on why, Markey cited the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on Obama nominee Merrick Garland during an election year, then their decision to confirm Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett, despite the upcoming presidential election. Markey called that “absolutely a violation of the so-called McConnell rule that we wouldn’t act on a Supreme Court justice in an election year,” referring to Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Those justices now are part of a majority which is aiming to systematically undermine the progressive decisions that have been made over two generations in our country,” Markey said.

If the court is not expanded to “reclaim” those seats, Markey said, the recent decisions “are just a preview of coming atrocities that are going to be emanating from the Supreme Court.”

Asked whether Republicans wouldn’t simply retake those added seats when they have the power to do so, Markey said, “the only alternative is to just accept the fact that for the next 15 years, right-wing Republican justices who are relatively young on the Supreme Court will undermine everything.” Markey said that could include the rights to same-sex marriage and contraception, and the authority of the FDA to regulate e-cigarettes.

Markey has also called to abolish the filibuster, the rule that requires 60 votes rather than a majority for legislation to pass the Senate. He called the procedure “arcane” and said it is “preventing the Senate from acting on the will of the American people.” “From my perspective, the filibuster is this Jim Crow relic from an earlier era that now has come to haunt our nation in the 21st century,” Markey said.

Asked why the solution to the filibuster is not bipartisanship, Markey said the problem is a Republican Party that is “within the grip of a right-wing ideology that has them terrified, and that ideology is Donald Trump.” He said there is a need to restore “balance” on the Supreme Court for now, “and maybe, just maybe, we’ll reach a day where the Republican Party returns to its senses.”

With regard to the specific court decisions, Markey said the ruling saying the EPA cannot regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is in effect the court providing a “leaky bucket” to handle a “five alarm climate fire.”

Markey appeared with President Biden in Somerset last week, where the president announced modest executive actions to address climate change. Many environmental activists urged the president to go further, and Markey said he sees the president’s initial actions as just the beginning.

He made very clear that he’s going to roll out executive action after executive action in the months to come that are going to substitute for, thus far, the failure of Congress to act to deal with the climate crisis,” he said. Markey said the US needs a strong climate policy to send a message to the world about the importance of climate change.We cannot preach temperance from a bar stool,” he said.

As the state Legislature works to update gun laws to adhere to the high court’s ruling on gun licensing, Markey said he encourages the Legislature to fill any gaps left by the court. “Massachusetts has to work to make NRA stand for not relevant anymore in American politics. We should be the leader,” he said.

On abortion, Markey said, the US is in “dark times,” and he is glad Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature are taking steps to legally protect abortion providers who serve women who travel from other states. Massachusetts must be a safe harbor for people across the country who are being denied the care they seek in their home states,” Markey said. “It’s a simple fact that we need more pro-choice governors and state legislatures to protect abortion access after this decision. But I think our Legislature is showing the way.”

Black girls disciplined in school more often than Whites

In the last normal school year before the pandemic, Black girls in Massachusetts were disciplined in school at more than three times the rate of white girls. Often, Black girls say, they are punished for the same offenses for which white students are not.

Melanie Rush, director of research and policy at the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said in many cases Black girls get in trouble for responding to what they perceive as a “hostile or unwelcoming school environment.” The Massachusetts Appleseed Center recently released a report that combined data with in-depth interviews of 11 female students of color in grades seven through twelve.

“They felt like their curriculums weren’t really reflective of their own identities and their own histories. They felt like there were stereotypes being placed upon them, that they were immediately seen as louder or aggressive whenever they were just trying to express themselves,” Rush said. “There is this disconnect between the students and their teachers, and then that leads to discipline.”

Rush spoke about the research on this week’s Codcast along with Qai Hinds, a rising high school senior in Weston who was part of the community advisory board that worked on the report.  The two outlined the unique challenges faced by girls of color, especially those in predominantly white schools, where many feel alienated from the dominant school culture.

“So many girls spoke about how they ended up just sort of shrinking into themselves after discipline and that they felt like they had to quiet themselves, that they couldn’t speak up. They couldn’t speak out for fear of being told that you are disrespectful, you are wrong, when really all they’re trying to do is engage in the classroom,” Rush said.

Hinds said as a first-generation American whose family comes from Trinidad and Tobago, she feels like her predominantly White school offers her less support than her White counterparts when it comes to her college search as well as her advocacy for students of color.

Hinds recalled one interview where a girl said her sister got expelled, then a month later the girl herself was suspended – which Hinds attributed to an environment where the girl was viewed with suspicion because of her sister. “Imagine a student coming to a classroom and immediately the teacher is reacting more hostile or more on guard with that student,” she said.

One concrete area where discipline appeared disparate regards girls who raised concerns that school dress codes were enforced differently against girls of different races or body types. Black girls are seen as more adult, they’re seen as more mature, and they’re often sexualized at much younger ages than White girls, which is extremely inappropriate,” Rush said.

Both Hinds and Rush said girls of color need to see themselves portrayed more in classroom curricula and in the school staff.

“You will have a world history class and you have a Black history class, and it’ll be more selective,” Hinds said. “I think when it comes to curriculum, we as a society need to finally admit that quote unquote Black history is all of our history. It’s not separate.”

Rush said even Black History Month is often taught with a focus on Black men, not women, and without connecting Black history to modern social issues. They couldn’t see themselves in what they were learning. It didn’t feel relevant to them,” Rush said of the girls interviewed.

Hinds said there is also a need for more racially diverse role models in schools, whether teachers or counselors. “If you are going from class to class to class and all you see are White teachers, that’s not only emotionally detrimental, but girls of color have a hard time maintaining and building identity because of that,” she said.

The report pushes for numerous policy recommendations, including banning suspensions and expulsions for young students and for any students for dress code violations; creating a disciplinary culture that keeps students in class; recruiting more diverse teachers; and giving students a greater chance to be heard.

Governor’s Council candidate would seek pro-choice, anti-racist judges

If Mara Dolan were interviewing a judicial nominee, she would want to know three things: whether the person supports abortion rights, they understand substance use disorders, and they are anti-racist.

“Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe versus Wade, it’s essential that everyone working within the criminal justice system and in our court system is 100 percent pro-choice, because we have to protect reproductive rights at absolutely every single level,” Dolan said on The Codcast this week.

Dolan, a public defender who has also worked in Democratic politics, is the only candidate challenging an incumbent governor’s councilor this year. She is running against Councilor Marilyn Devaney in District 3, which includes Dolan’s hometown of Concord and the surrounding west-of-Boston suburbs. Dolan argues that she would bring an important perspective to the council, which confirms judicial nominees, as a long-time public defender.

“The incumbent has been in for 23 years, and I don’t have a problem with that. But in those 23 years, she has not once done what I have done thousands of times, which is stand next to a defendant in a court of law as they face a judge,” Dolan said. “It is essential to the Governor’s Council that we have someone who’s working in our court system every day and understands the issues that we face there.

Devaney has described herself as the only full-time governor’s councilor and says, because she is not a lawyer, she does not have a conflict of interest appearing before judges she voted to confirm.

Asked what, if any, litmus test she would apply to nominees, Dolan said she has three questions she will ask every nominee, the first being whether they support abortion rights. “I will be absolutely certain that any nominee is 100 percent pro-choice before I vote yes,” Dolan said, noting that under state law anyone age 15 or under seeking an abortion without a parent’s consent must get judicial approval.

Pressed on whether she would vote against confirming a religious Catholic nominee who personally opposes abortion, Dolan clarified, “No, the question is whether they will uphold the law.”

The second issue Dolan flagged is making sure judges understand substance use disorders and recovery. Today, she said, offenders may get taken into custody for a probation violation if they are in recovery while on probation, then relapse and use drugs or alcohol. “It is expensive, it doesn’t work, and it makes recovery harder. So we’ve got to make sure that all of our judges and our parole board members respect the science of addiction and are prepared to work to support recovery,” Dolan said.To punish people for being in so much pain that they relapse is the absolute worst thing that we can do.”

Third, Dolan said, judges must recognize and commit to addressing racial disparities, with Black and Latino individuals overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system. We have to make sure that all nominees are anti-racist, that they’re going to be able to identify racism when they see it, and they’re going to take affirmative steps to stop it,” Dolan said. She said that will involve looking at nominees’ awareness of racism and their history of what they have done to combat racism.

Dolan also talks on the campaign trail about ensuring judges understand the science showing that young adults’ brains are not fully formed until they are 25, which can affect decision-making. She said the court system needs to give young adults “as much support and understanding and compassion as we can, which includes diverting youth out of the court system and not shaming them when they get into trouble. Particularly in Juvenile Court, she said, You really need to make sure that you give them the message that you understand that they are children. They’re not being held to the same standards as adults.”

The Governor’s Council is typically a low-profile body, but it has made headlines in recent years, primarily for infighting and name-calling among its members. There have been calls to abolish the council altogether.

Dolan disagrees. “The fastest, most effective way to improve the Governor’s Council is to elect the best people to serve,” she said.