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OPINION

Senator Lydia Edwards believes in Kevin Hayden for DA

Edwards is putting her name and progressive credentials behind a candidate whose commitment to criminal justice reform has been questioned by an opponent who wants to make that the defining issue of the race.

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo debate at the Suffolk County House of Correction on Aug. 11.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

State Senator Lydia Edwards said she had one question for District Attorney Kevin Hayden.

“Are you or are you not investigating this damn thing?” — a reference to a controversial case in the news, involving a transit officer who allegedly pulled his gun on a driver during a traffic dispute, wrote up false police reports, and got a colleague to provide false witness testimony.

When Hayden answered “yes,” she said she took him at his word. And with that assurance, Edwards has endorsed Hayden as a committed public servant with extensive prosecutorial experience, as a “compassionate Black Bostonian who cares deeply about our community” — and as the candidate she hopes Suffolk County voters will choose for DA in the Sept. 6 primary.

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With that endorsement, Edwards is also putting her name and progressive credentials behind a candidate whose commitment to criminal justice reform has been questioned by Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, the opponent who wants to make that the defining issue of the DA’s race.

“It would be easier to shut up and stay out. But I really believe in Kevin,” said Edwards, the only Black woman now serving in the state Senate and the first woman and first person of color to represent a district that includes Revere, Winthrop, East Boston, and the North End. She calls Arroyo “a gifted politician” whom she endorsed in the past, but now questions his fitness for the DA’s job, given the limits of his legal experience as a public defender. “Ricardo never prosecuted a case in his life,” said Edwards, who is also a lawyer. “He never had to bring charges or drop charges.”

Edwards’s endorsement is an interesting wrinkle in a race that so far has been framed by this question: Which candidate will carry out the criminal justice reform agenda set by Rachael Rollins, the ground-breaking Suffolk DA who went on to become US attorney for the Massachusetts district? From the start, the answer from the city’s progressive political community, including Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and US Representative Ayanna Pressley, was Arroyo. The second-term councilor positioned himself as the change agent who will take up where Rollins left off. Hayden, who was appointed to the DA’s job by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, was cast as an old school, status quo prosecutor who couldn’t be trusted to advance his predecessor’s agenda.

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When he said he would leave prosecution of minor misdemeanors up to the discretion of assistant district attorneys, rather than embrace the list of crimes Rollins would not prosecute, suspicions about his agenda grew. Then came The Boston Globe report about Transit Police officer Jacob Green and his alleged interactions with a driver and subsequent efforts to cover them up. An investigation into the matter, launched by Rollins, fell to Hayden after she left to become US attorney. Hayden’s top deputy, Kevin Mullen, allegedly told Green’s lawyer he had “no appetite to prosecute this case.” Days afterward, Green and his lawyer contributed $225 to Hayden’s campaign. The donation has since been returned.

Hayden denies the allegations and said he was always committed to investigating the case. (A spokesman forwarded an email from July 11 that indicates Hayden planned to assign the case to another prosecutor, and others that indicate a meeting was set up on July 29 to do that — just before the Globe asked about it.) Still, Hayden’s shifting explanations for what happened have not been confidence boosting. Edwards said she isn’t happy with Hayden’s response, which she blamed on his campaign, and said he shouldn’t be taking contributions from anyone under investigation. But she still believes he’s the best person for the job.

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Hayden, she said, has been there whenever she calls. He shows up to shootings in the middle of the night and to community meetings with young people and police. He invested in a program to extend wrap-around services and keep defendants out of jail. He was quick to respond after a fire in Revere displaced 150 people and committed to investigating the landlord for possible criminal wrongdoing. She said he’s also the first law enforcement official to back legislation that would seal eviction records, which are held against tenants when they try to rent a new residence.

“He has demonstrated a willingness to listen and grow and look at areas of harm, for example, in housing. He is listening to a community’s pain point,” she said.

When it comes to the controversy involving the Transit Police officer, said Edwards, “the only thing that matters is that his investigation has not ended.”

Hayden’s election day fortunes may now hinge on how many Suffolk County voters believe that, too.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.