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New Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden comes well prepared

Kevin HaydenGBH News

Kevin Hayden, who will take over Monday as Suffolk district attorney, arrives with a serious fan club.

“He’s just a superb human being,” said former district attorney Ralph C. Martin II, who first hired him as a prosecutor in the 1990s. “The governor just did a great thing by appointing Kevin.”

Hayden was tapped by Governor Charlie Baker to serve out the term of Rachael Rollins, who herself will be sworn in as US attorney for Massachusetts on Monday.

It’s a time of sweeping change in local law enforcement. Change is coming at every level: Mayor Michelle Wu has just appointed a task force to guide the search for a new Boston police commissioner. Wu said she hopes to have a new commissioner in place by the spring, though that sounds optimistic.

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Hayden is no stranger to the DA’s office. He was an assistant DA from 1997 to 2008 and headed the Safe Neighborhood Initiative.

Until Friday, he chaired the Sex Offender Registry Board, the state agency that keeps tabs on sex offenders.

One obvious question as Hayden moves into Rollins’s role, is whether he intends to continue with her progressive agenda. Does he want to go harder after low-level offenders than she did? Will he continue to review possible wrongful convictions to the point of overturning questionable ones?

Hayden has barely commented publicly on his appointment. But every indication is that he supports the main thrust of Rollins’s push for reform, if not in every detail.

People who knew him in his time as a prosecutor recall a man who wanted to build bridges between the prosecutor’s office and the communities of color where it had long been justly viewed with suspicion.

Part of the mission of the program he ran involved working with clergy to facilitate the reentry of offenders into the community. It was a daunting task. Other than Martin, Black prosecutors were few, and a long history of terrible law enforcement-community relations had only fitfully begun to improve.

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“Being a Black man in Boston and having a sense of the community, he saw his role differently than a lot of our colleagues did,” said Rahsaan Hall, a fellow ADA back then who is currently weighing a run for Plymouth district attorney. “Since then, a lot of our conversations have been about this system, and how it can be different.”

Hayden became a defense lawyer after leaving office. Being on the other side gave him a completely different perspective on the powers prosecutors have, and their discretion in wielding it.

Those who know Hayden believe he is unlikely to engage in the kind of high-profile fights that helped define Rollins’s tenure — she came to the job as an outsider in a way he is not. But their views of where the office needs to go probably aren’t far apart.

The big unanswered question, of course, is whether Hayden intends to run for a full term later this year. He didn’t commit one way or the other as he went through the selection process, and Baker didn’t ask him to.

But I can only assume that if Hayden wanted the job enough to push for it now, he isn’t planning to walk away in a few months. The advantages of incumbency — while not insurmountable — are real. But if Hayden plans to run, the time to launch will be soon. So the clock is ticking on a decision.

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Both Hayden and Rollins are moving into their new jobs at a fascinating time. It’s hard to think of a political role that’s changed as much, in terms of public perception, as the job of prosecutor. Until recently, few people thought of these jobs as potential vehicles for social change, let alone possible promoters of equity.

But it isn’t enough anymore to put bad guys away. Part of the job now is to build bridges between law enforcement and the many constituencies it touches.

Hayden was doing that work before it became a political movement. And many believe he will continue doing precisely that.


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