For the first time since 1970, a Democrat will serve as the Cape and Islands district attorney after Tuesday’s elections saw criminal defense lawyer Robert J. Galibois beat out his Republican challenger, Daniel T. Higgins, a prosecutor who had been hand-picked as a successor by the longtime incumbent, Michael O’Keefe, who is stepping down.
Galibois, of Barnstable, ran a traditional campaign to get tougher on drug dealers, and he stopped short of the more progressive reforms that were proposed and failed in other elections across the state.
Though he has been in private practice since 2008, Galibois also worked as a prosecutor in the Cape and Island office from 1997 to 2003. He replaces O’Keefe, who has been the Cape and Islands district attorney since 2001.
“It’s definitely an exciting time for the Cape and Islands,” Galibois said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I’m not focusing on the party affiliation. I’m truly focusing on getting engaged with our communities across the Cape and Islands.”
Galibois won 55.9 percent of the overall vote.
“A considerable part of my stump speech talked about the need to develop a deep sense of community engagement between the district attorney’s office and the people that it serves,” Galibois added. “And my sense is that resonated very well across the entire district.”
While the Republican control of the office shifts, it won’t likely alter the tenor of the office, experts say.
“I don’t think this shift is as dramatic as it seems,” said Brian Frederick, professor and chair of political science at Bridgewater State University. “Galibois was a fairly conventional prosecutor. I don’t think he will shake up too many things there on the Cape as far as approaches to criminal prosecutions are concerned.”
Meanwhile, the reform agenda proposed by civil rights activist Rahsaan Hall failed to resonate with voters in Plymouth County.
There, longtime Republican incumbent Timothy J. Cruz fended off Hall, his Democratic opponent, making him the lone Republican district attorney in Massachusetts after inaugurations of new district attorneys take place in January.
“It really doesn’t faze me one way or the other that I’m the last Republican, because I know I’m working with a lot of really good people, and we’re going to work together to make a difference,” Cruz said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
He added: “I think it’s always a challenge as a Republican in a Democratic state like Massachusetts. I’m very happy with the results, and I’m appreciative of all the efforts of my supporters and friends who … worked really hard to make sure that we can continue to keep the office going in the direction that it is, which I believe is the right direction.”
Violent crime and shootings are down and voters like seeing Plymouth County in the 90th percentile of safest counties in America, Cruz said.
“I think people want that, and they look at the overall package that we provide for the community and understand that it’s no one person, no one group, everybody is working together to make a difference,” he added. “And I think that’s what people saw: we’re getting results.”
Hall was Cruz’s fourth Democratic challenger since Cruz took office in 2001.
Hall, a former Suffolk assistant district attorney and criminal justice reform advocate at ACLU Massachusetts, mounted a high-profile challenge with endorsements from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and even Patriots player Devin McCourty and singer songwriter John Legend. He proposed progressive reforms in the mold of Rachael S. Rollins, a former Suffolk district attorney and the current US attorney for Massachusetts, with whom Hall attended law school. He has applauded, for instance, Rollins’s refusal to prosecute certain nonviolent crimes.
Cruz’s win “demonstrates his individual popularity,” Frederick said. “I think it also reflects the fact that he did show some flexibility in acknowledging some of the concerns of the criminal justice reform movement, while at the same time highlighting his own record as district attorney.”
Frederick added: “Obviously, he struck the right balance in a way that the voters of Plymouth County were comfortable with, and so he will be reelected handily.”
Hall, of Brockton, said in an emailed statement Wednesday that with a majority of votes counted, it did not appear that he had “a path to victory” and he had called Cruz to concede. Cruz won 63.1 percent of the overall vote, in spite of Hall’s criticism of his administration on the campaign trail.
“Justice demands better, and so do we – all of the residents of Plymouth County,” Hall said. “So despite the outcome of last night’s election, we are all winners. We are winners because we dared to say that we demand better than what we’ve had. We are winners because we spoke truth to power and stood up on the side of the marginalized and oppressed.”
Essex County, meanwhile, will also seat a new district attorney as conservative Democrat and 20-year incumbent Jonathan Blodgett retires. State Representative Paul Tucker, a former Salem police chief, ran unopposed to succeed him. He shares many of Blodgett’s policy views.
Globe correspondent Alexander Thompson contributed to this report.