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Politics and revenge in the race for attorney general

Michelle Wu, Elizabeth Warren, and Kim Janey are ditching all their equity happy talk to support Shannon Liss-Riordan over Andrea Campbell.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Boston acting mayor Kim Janey, candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu spoke with the media outside the Boston Public Library on Aug. 27. Warren, Janey, and Wu officially endorsed Liss-Riordan, a candidate for Massachusetts attorney general.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

With their big joint endorsement of Shannon Liss-Riordan for attorney general, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former Boston acting mayor Kim Janey are backing a wealthy white woman who is pouring millions of her own money into her campaign — instead of Andrea Campbell, a Black woman who made it from public housing to Princeton, and then to law school and elective office.

“They are taking her [Campbell] out. They don’t have to. They want to,” said a Democratic strategist. The endorsement is also a slap at Attorney General Maura Healey, who is running for governor and supports Campbell. The late mayor Tom Menino, who is often cited by Wu as a mentor, would be proud. He knew how to hold a grudge and make the person who instigated it pay. And in some ways, this endorsement is a classic case of politics and revenge, Boston-style. Campbell ran a tough race for mayor against Wu, and when she finished third in the preliminary, she didn’t endorse Wu in the final. Janey, who finished fourth in the preliminary, holds Campbell responsible for dividing Black votes and costing her the mayor’s office. As for Warren, in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary fight, Campbell endorsed Kamala Harris, not Warren.


But the element of race adds a special twist. If Campbell wins, she would make history as the first Black woman attorney general in Massachusetts. By supporting Liss-Riordan over Campbell, “you are blocking a Black woman who has a chance to crack another glass ceiling,” said state Senator Lydia Edwards, the only Black woman in that chamber and the first woman and person of color to represent her district. “Andrea making it means so many of us can, too. Andrea rising means we all can,” she added.


You would think Wu, Warren, and Janey would be cheering for Campbell. Wu, the first woman and person of color to win election as mayor, ran on a promise to fight for racial and economic justice. Janey, the first woman and person of color to serve as mayor, pledged to always look at Boston through “the lens of racial equity.” Warren, meanwhile, continually bemoans the undue influence of millionaires and billionaires on American politics. Yet here they are, ditching all that equity happy talk to support Liss-Riordan, who has so far put $5.5 million of her own money into the race and said she might spend up to $12 million. From a political perspective, this endorsement also pleases labor unions, which largely support Liss-Riordan.

Campbell’s fans see her as a rising star who needs a platform from which to shine. The AG’s office would give her one. Canceling Campbell now would make her a two-time loser and greatly diminish any potential as a political threat. “Andrea is a rare talent and frankly, should be winning this race. But this endorsement isn’t about who will make the best AG. It’s about who poses the biggest threat to Mayor Wu’s — and by extension, Elizabeth Warren’s — political future,” said Eileen O’Connor, who was involved with Campbell’s mayoral campaign. If Campbell wins the AG’s race, the sky’s the limit. She might run for US Senate, something Wu is also rumored to be interested in if a seat opens up.


In endorsing Liss-Riordan, Wu, Warren, and Janey hailed her long resume as a labor attorney who has won millions of dollars in class action suits for plaintiffs and herself. Campbell has less litigation experience but more political experience, having won election to the Boston City Council and served as its first Black woman president. But she has also worked as a legal services attorney, defending the rights of school children and their families; practiced law as an employment attorney; and served as legal counsel to former Governor Deval Patrick. Besides Healey, Campbell is also backed by four previous attorney generals.

And remember, Wu, Warren, and Janey also back Ricardo Arroyo, 34, for Suffolk County district attorney, even though he has never prosecuted a case. According to a recent Globe report, Arroyo also faced sexual assault allegations when he was a high school student, allegations he both denies and says he cannot remember.

How can they support Arroyo but not Campbell, or at least stay neutral in the AG’s race?

“Andrea Campbell’s life embodies progressive principles and she has made the Massachusetts progressive platform her blueprint for addressing social inequalities in Boston and the Commonwealth,” said Jeffrey Sánchez, a former state lawmaker who’s now a senior policy adviser at Rasky Partners and a Campbell supporter.

But this particular endorsement of Liss-Riordan isn’t about principles or qualifications. It’s about using power to make sure someone else doesn’t get it. That’s not progressive politics. That’s very old school politics.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @joan_vennochi.