A longtime senior aide in the Suffolk County sheriff’s office on Wednesday launched a campaign for Suffolk sheriff, a seat currently held by Steve Tompkins.
Speaking to reporters in Mattapan outside Mildred Avenue Community Center, Sandy Zamor Calixte, 48, said she’d stepped down from her post as the office’s chief of external affairs and communications to focus on her campaign. She said she was driven by the desire to give those who’ve been denied the resources they need to succeed a “first chance,” rather than a second one.
“The only way to implement the change for the community and the Suffolk County Sheriff Department employees we need is new leadership,” Zamor Calixte said, as two dozen or so family members and supporters bundled against the frigid weather cheered. “I am that new leadership.”
Tompkins’ nine-year tenure has been marked a number of hot button issues, including the termination of the agency’s relationship with ICE and, more recently, his controversial approaches to the epicenter of Boston’s opioid crisis at Mass. & Cass.
Last year, Tompkins’s decision to use a special trial court inside Suffolk County Jail to steer people from the large encampment downtown to treatment met criticism from public health advocates, concerned the plan did more harm than good. He also proposed converting a former South Bay detention center into a rehabilitation center, which received praise from people who supported a multidisciplinary strategy to the crisis and criticism from others who warned criminalizing homelessness and addiction would make matters worse.
Tompkins, however, has raised concerns about letting criminal behavior and suffering on Boston’s streets fester.
Tompkins confirmed to the Globe that he planned to seek reelection. He expressed dismay that she was leaving the department but said he welcomed the challenge.
“She was a valued member of our department … so I wish she weren’t walking away,” Tompkins said. “But listen: if you’ve got the fire in your belly to go for it, go for it.”
Zamor Calixte declined to criticize Tompkins or speak about specific issues. She said she submitted her resignation yesterday and had a conversation with Tompkins “that went very well.”
Too often, she added, people are forced to choose between supporting law enforcement or reforming public safety, she said.
“I’m not a politician; I have never run for office,” she said. “But I know I have the experience, vision, passion, and integrity that the department needs for the change.”
If elected, Zamor Calixte said she’d focus on “evidence-based programs” that reduce recidivism rates, housing, education, and waiving inmate phone call fees.
Zamor Calixte worked in the sheriff’s department for 16 years, according to her campaign. She held positions as coordinator of community outreach and youth programming as well as director of external affairs, before becoming the department’s chief of external affairs and communications in 2014.
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Zamor Calixte would be the second woman and first Haitian American to hold the position, if elected.
“It’s important for everyone to realize — especially young ones who aren’t from this country — to realize it’s possible and doable,” she said.
Among the supporters in attendance at the launch was Marie St. Fleur, a former Democratic state representative and the first Haitian American to hold public office in Massachusetts. St. Fleur said Zamor Calixte has the experience and devotion to think about the elected position differently.
“We established a system that’s had negative consequences for communities of color,” St. Fleur said. “If we don’t get to the root causes of these issues, we’re going to continue to see the destruction of families.”
This story has been updated.