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Newly appointed Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden will run to permanently succeed Rachael Rollins

He’ll face a Boston city councilor in the September primary

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden.Suffolk District Attorney's

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden is announcing plans to seek a full term as the county’s top prosecutor, ending weeks of speculation and setting up a contested primary to permanently succeed Rachael Rollins.

Hayden, who was chosen last month by Governor Charlie Baker to complete Rollins’s term, planned to announce his candidacy on Wednesday. He is pledging to reform the office, helping rather than prosecuting those who need assistance. But he vowed also to enforce the law and prosecute dangerous criminals.

“I’m confident that we can change our approach to criminal justice,” he said in a news release. “I’m equally confident that we can make those changes accountable at all levels, from protecting the public to engaging the community to helping victims and to providing services rather than incarceration to low-level offenders.


Rollins, who was sworn in as US attorney for Massachusetts in January, served as district attorney for only three years, but she quickly distinguished herself as an outspoken reformer bent on scaling back what she saw as overzealous law enforcement. She created a list of 15 “decline to prosecute” crimes, such as shoplifting and drug possession, that her office generally would not prosecute. And she battled frequently with her critics, sometimes in personal terms.

Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo already has announced his candidacy for district attorney, saying that, if elected, he would preserve many of Rollins’s policies.

“I will maintain the successful reforms that have proven to improve the safety of communities across Suffolk County and move us forward with justice- and community-centered policies,” he said. “I am committed to a system that reduces racial and class disparities and holds people accountable while offering healing and restoration for victims.”

Hayden, 53, known as an even tempered prosecutor, seems poised to strike a middle ground between a traditional prosecutor and a “progressive” such as Rollins. Hayden has said he would not create a “decline to prosecute” list like Rollins, but will look for alternatives to prosecution where it is warranted.


“We get caught up in ‘cases’ and forget there are human beings involved,” he said. “Every case has to be looked at with its own lens to determine what to do.”

He said he will focus on guns and violent crimes, prosecuting and incarcerating people “who present a clear and present threat to the public.”

He also pledged “to provide robust diversion services to those who commit lower-level offenses.”

Hayden worked in the office as an assistant district attorney from 1997 to 2008 and was head of the Safe Neighborhood Initiative, a cooperative effort between law enforcement and city residents. He has been chairman of the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board since 2015, when Baker appointed him to that role.

Those who know him describe Hayden as diligent and deliberate.

“He’s very calm and measured,” said former state public safety secretary Andrea Cabral, who is on Hayden’s transition team. “He’s also kind and an empathetic person. He has personality qualities that also make for a good manager.”

Hayden received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in 1990 and his law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1995.

Hayden is active in his community, working with Youth Options Unlimited, Boston, an organization that works with court-involved or gang-related young people, and is a deacon at the Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan.


He lives in Roslindale with his wife and two children.

He believes his background as a prosecutor, defense lawyer, and public official will set him apart from any other candidates, he said.

“After prosecuting, I spent five years as a criminal defense attorney,” he told The Boston Globe. “I understand our criminal legal systems from both ends . . . I also ran and was the chairman of a state agency that is directly related to public safety. I don’t know if there will be another candidate who has all of that experience.”

Arroyo, in his January announcement, pledged to build on the work started by Rollins.

“As a leader in amplifying the issues of systemic racism in Boston’s policymaking, he is committed to working to address racial and class disparities in his administration,” his campaign said. “As an original contributor to the Do Not Charge List, he is committed to ensuring its continuation, working to abolish cash bail for nonviolent crimes, and advocating to eliminate mandatory minimums.

Arroyo, a Boston native who lives in Hyde Park, graduated from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and went to law school at Loyola University Chicago.

His father, Felix D. Arroyo, was the city’s first Latino councilor and currently serves as the Suffolk register of probate. Ricardo’s brother, Felix G. Arroyo, is a former city councilor and mayoral candidate who in 2017 was fired from his job as the city’s health and human services chief in the wake of sexual harassment allegations that he denies.


Hayden’s father, Robert, who died last month, also served as a public official. He was assistant superintendent in the Boston Public Schools in the 1980s.

A former executive director of METCO and a former president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, Robert Hayden also wrote more than 20 publications about Black history and culture, often highlighting previously overlooked achievements in scientific research, technology, and medicine.

Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.