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What’s next for the Suffolk DA’s office?

Who will follow Rachael Rollins as Suffolk district attorney is an open question.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Just as it was beginning to seem that Rachael Rollins’s hope of becoming US attorney might be headed nowhere fast, the US Senate did the right thing, confirming her on Wednesday by the narrowest of votes.

So the Suffolk district attorney is headed to Washington ... or, rather, to the Seaport, where she will become the region’s top law enforcement officer in a matter of days.

To my mind, Rollins has had a truly groundbreaking tenure as DA. She has reset the office’s priorities, by deemphasizing minor offenses to devote resources to major crime. She has been the progressive she promised to be, but she has never been the soft-on-crime figure her detractors have tried to make her out to be. If anything, some on the left believe the office should have moved even further than it has, especially on issues like bail.

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If one test of a prosecutor is keeping crime down, Rollins has been an unqualified success. At a time when violent crime is soaring in most major cities, Boston continues to buck that trend in a big way. Suffolk County is seeing large drops in shootings and homicides.

Rollins has been smart, decisive, and tough as nails. Which turn out to be the primary requirements of the job.

Rollins wanted to be US attorney primarily for the chance to apply her ideas across the state. Her transition into her new that role will be fascinating to watch.

Her departure means that Governor Charlie Baker now has to appoint a successor for the remaining year of Rollins’s term, a decision that could come as early as next week.

Due to Rollins’s slow-rolling confirmation, the process of vetting candidates has been underway for months. So has the local rumor mill around who’s likely to be tapped.

Let’s start here: Some of the rumored major contenders aren’t really in the mix at this point. Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty is not going to be DA. Also, it is highly unlikely that Linda Champion, who lost to Rollins in 2018 but has been campaigning for the appointment, will get it.

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Rollins initially backed her first assistant, Dan Mulhern, for the job. But Mulhern recently took himself out of the running and left the office altogether.

Rahsaan Hall of the American Civil Liberties Union is often mentioned, and he would be a good choice — if he wanted it. But he doesn’t live in Suffolk County or have any plans to move in. Hall is not a candidate for this post.

By every indication, the four finalists for the appointment are Masai King, Rollins’s current first assistant; Kevin Hayden, chair of the Sex Offender Registry Board and a former assistant Suffolk district attorney; Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP; and John Pappas, a former DA who is current senior counsel in the Suffolk DA’s office.

It’s an interesting group. King is, in a sense, next in line. But Hayden is very highly regarded and already a known quantity to Baker, as he serves in the administration. Pappas was tapped by Baker to lead the office on an interim basis in 2018 when Dan Conley resigned shortly after Rollins was elected. (He stayed on, in his current role, under Rollins.) Sullivan has built strong relationships through her work with the NAACP — including with Baker. She’s the only viable candidate without experience as a prosecutor, but is probably the closest to Rollins ideologically.

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With Mulhern out, Rollins’s current preference isn’t clear. (And, of course, she and Baker have a famously weird relationship.) Baker has insisted all along that he wants to replace Rollins with a person of color. But Rollins vocally supported Mulhern, and is said to like the idea of Pappas in the short term as well, as he has reportedly pledged not to run for the office next year.

The only certainty is that the next Suffolk DA will walk into a good situation. As it turned out, Rollins didn’t burn the office down after all.

Instead, she modernized it.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.