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Andrea Campbell could make history as the next attorney general

With a Republican challenger standing between her and history, Campbell could be the first Black woman to head the Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s office. If elected, she’ll bring a blueprint for the job rooted in both professional and personal experience

Candidate for Attorney General Andrea Campbell (center) is flanked by Mayor Paul Brodeur (left) and realtor Mary Sexton while visiting small businesses on Main Street in Melrose.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

MELROSE — As she stopped before a neighborhood walk for an iced coffee from Bitty and Beau’s, Andrea Campbell leaned across the counter to greet shift manager Lindsey Kotowicz and the baristas busy making drinks for the queue of Friday morning customers.

“You’ve got my vote,” said Kotowicz, shaking hands with Campbell, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts attorney general.

The coffee shop is one of 23 across the United States, the only one in New England in a franchise well-known for its focus on employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To Kotowicz, Campbell’s pitstop seemed personal. For Campbell, the visit was intentional: a way to connect with people whose voices she believes are too often cast to the sidelines.

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“There is a spot within my heart that is focused on those communities: the disability community, young people, those in the LGBTQ space, people of color, but also white people in Massachusetts that feel left out and left behind,” Campbell said. “And that is just because of the skin and body that I live in.”

With an election a week away, Campbell is poised to make history as the state’s first Black female attorney general, with polls showing her far ahead of her Republican opponent. She campaigned on a promise to reform the justice system and expand economic opportunity, both issues that underpinned her legal career and tenure as president of the Boston City Council.

The platform, she said, is shaped by both professional and personal experience. The 40-year-old mother of two grew up without parents for the first eight years of her life, after her father was arrested and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence when Campbell was an infant, and her mother died in a car crash driving to visit him in jail. Campbell’s twin brother died at 29 of an autoimmune disease while in state custody awaiting criminal charges, and she has long criticized the “school-to-prison pipeline” she says caused their lives to diverge.

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Campbell’s vision for the office stands in stark contrast to the harder-line proposals of her Republican opponent, Cape Cod lawyer Jay McMahon. The 68-year-old father of five has stuck closely to the traditional GOP stance, positioning himself as pro-police and against what he called “illegal immigration.” McMahon has also spoken openly about his own struggles: after losing his son to an opioid overdose in 2008, the career litigator became a dedicated advocate for ending the opioid epidemic.

“I never want another family to go through what ours has suffered. I want justice for [my son] Joel, justice for victims of other crimes and to make sure the purveyors of these poisons end up behind bars,” McMahon said in a statement, adding that he has visited Boston’s “Methadone Mile” to “listen to those living along this stretch and find out what needs to be done to help them.”

McMahon’s experience, however, has led him to take a different view on the criminal justice system. In a heated debate last month, McMahon openly accused Campbell of being “anti-police,” and released a recent statement claiming she has avoided “real issues.”

“She is running on a political platform as opposed to a law and order [platform] that addresses the real problems in the community,” McMahon, a career litigator and father of five, said in an interview last week, criticizing Campbell’s history of progressive criminal justice reform. “We are being almost overrun by crime, and [meanwhile] she wants to punish the police. All this talk about defunding the police or reallocating funds is just plain detrimental to public safety in Massachusetts.”

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A Suffolk University poll from last month found Campbell with a 20-point lead over McMahon. She has carried the momentum from her triumph in the competitive September Democratic primary, which helped build her name recognition statewide, and since then has outspent his campaign by more than $160,000. McMahon did not have an opponent in the GOP primary.

Still, she said, she has no illusions about the hurdles that remain ahead of election day.

“I have to remind folks we have an election through November and … I’m not taking anything or anyone for granted,” she said. But, “I don’t necessarily see barriers, I see possibilities … so now it’s about managing those possibilities for constituents, and delivering for them.”

On the campaign trail, Campbell has focused on community violence, gun violence, and incarceration — a trio of issues that hits close to home for the longtime Mattapan resident.

“I live in a community like many other urban centers, and including some rural communities, where you see people getting shot and killed ... [and I would] absolutely go into the office having experienced loved ones who have been harmed from community violence,” she said. “Prison reform, juvenile justice, wrongful convictions, many of these issues fall under the same legal umbrella that I don’t think any AG has ever prioritized and joined the national conversation around.”

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Campbell said she also hopes to open an elder justice unit to look at cases of physical, emotional, and financial abuse of senior citizens, as well as a reproductive justice unit to respond to concerns around abortion and contraception in the aftermath of the June Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that granted a woman’s right to an abortion.

After crisscrossing the state several times over during the campaign, Campbell said the racial and socioeconomic diversity she encountered has inspired her blueprint for strengthening the office, starting by hiring more multilingual staff to the Community Engagement Bureau. She also plans to funnel additional resources to regional attorney general offices in Worcester and Springfield, and create an entirely new office in Berkshire County.

“I’ve been having a conversation with folks in Berkshire County who live in manufactured housing and mobile housing, where they are just being discriminated against and feel like no one is paying attention to them,” said Campbell. “My lived experience also includes those folks who I think the AG really must fight for.”


Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.