With Suffolk County District Attorney (DA) Dan Conley announcing earlier this year that he will not seek re-election after leading the office for more than 15 years, a healthy field of candidates have emerged so far in the race to replace him.
The Jamaica Plain Progressives and the NAACP Boston Branch co-hosted a forum on April 9 at English High School to give the five candidates—Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Greg Henning, Shannon McAuliffe, and Rachael Rollins—a chance to introduce themselves to the community and answer questions. About 150 attendees heard the candidates cover a range of issues, including their leadership abilities and criminal justice reform.
Carvalho, a state representative from Dorchester and former assistant DA, talked about being a Cape Verdean immigrant and how he struggled staying out of trouble growing up, like many youths today. But he said his mother and others helped steer him on a better path that led to college and law school.
Carvalho said that he is running for DA because no public office has a “greater impact on families of color” and that too many of them suffer the affects of mass incarceration. He said that he has the leadership abilities to guide the office, pointing to his work on the criminal justice reform bill and helping it get passed at the State House.
The representative also talked about how the racial disparities about those affected by the criminal justice system is “tearing communities apart” and that he will make sure “people who look like me are in the DA’s Office.”
Champion, a former prosecutor for the DA’s Office, talked about restoring the office as a “resource to the community,” provide some teeth to the phrase “sanctuary city” by taking active steps to protect undocumented immigrants, and that she is here “to stand up and be counted.”
She said that she has the leadership abilities to guide the office because she has been “a manager my entire professional career,” including running a program at Urban Edge. Champion also talked about that a pre-trial diversion program for youths under the age of 21 is missing from the criminal justice reform bill that was recently passed by the State House. A pre-trial diversion program diverts people from the traditional criminal justice process,
Henning, a former assistant DA and school teacher, said he has “dedicated my life to serving the people of Suffolk County.” He talked about his work at the DA’s Office, prosecuting cases from low-level crime to murder, and heading the gang unit. Henning also talked about his time as a teacher saying he learned two points: that he is a terrible teacher and the impact he could have on youths.
He said he has the leadership to guide the office because he supervised one of the largest units at the DA’s Office. He also joked that teaching 30 eighth graders gives him the experience of managing large groups.
Henning said that if he was a state legislator, he would have supported the criminal justice reform bill and voted for it, which seems to go against earlier news reports that he did not support it. He said that the bill has some good parts, such as eliminating minimum mandatory sentences for some drug offenses, but doesn’t address recidivism, as it has no allocations of funds for those re-entering society from prison.
McAuliffe, a self-described progressive attorney, said she is running for DA to “keep all of us safe.” She said that the war on crime and mass incarceration “has failed us.” She talked about representing undocumented immigrants and said that the systematic racism in the court system “must stop.” “I don’t run away from hard. I run to hard,” said McAuliffe.
She said she learned leadership skills at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and applied those skills as director of Roca, a nonprofit that aims to break the cycle of poverty and incarceration for at-risk youths. McAuliffe also talked about what’s missing in the criminal justice reform bill, including not enough being spent on programs for people re-entering society from prison and repealing even more of the mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
Rollins, a former prosecutor, former chief legal counsel of the Massachusetts Port Authority, and former president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, talked about being a three-sport athlete in high school who earned a “full ride” to college. She said she was elected captain of her high school team despite the school not being diverse. She said that the criminal justice reform bill needs someone to implement it and she is that person. Rollins pointed to her time at the port authority as being able to lead during a time of cultural change.
Rollins also talked about needing more money for re-entry programs for those exiting prison and that “we have prosecutors who don’t look like those people who they prosecute.” She added, “I’ll will make changes in the office immediately.”