He had a cameo at the Hyde Park crime scene that investigators were scouring for evidence after last week’s horrific murder. Two weeks earlier, he played a leading role in the news that the body of Albert DeSalvo would be unearthed to put the mystery of the Boston Strangler to rest.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has occupied center stage in some of the summer’s most prominent crime dramas, elevating his public profile at a time when he’s running for mayor of Boston and trying to break away from a pack of 12 candidates.
However grim and unsettling the news, political observers say, the publicity can’t hurt.
“In a crowded field and as the days are getting shorter, with everybody trying to get some attention, it’s an advantage,” said Paul Watanabe, chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “They’re all trying to break through.”
Other candidates are working valiantly to draw attention to their campaign pledges and public safety initiatives. Mayoral candidate Michael P. Ross, a Boston city councilor who chairs the council’s public safety committee, recently held a hearing on gun violence in Roxbury to reach out to constituents. Rob Consalvo, another city councilor running for mayor, unveiled his public safety initiatives in two segments, including a teleconference last week that attracted just a handful of reporters.
But if they resent the omnipresence of their rival in the news, none would say so publicly.
“Dan is the district attorney. He has a job to do,” said Consalvo.
In April, just two weeks after he entered the race for mayor, the Boston Marathon bombs exploded and Conley was among the political and law enforcement authorities who gathered to announce developments in the investigation.
Last week, when the body of a young woman was found in Hyde Park after a shocking kidnapping and murder, Conley was at the crime scene gathering information from investigators. Though he declined to comment, he offered to let the TV cameras capture footage of him that would help fill the empty hours before he and other law enforcement officials held their press conference.
Conley could even find himself involved in some high-profile cases that happened elsewhere — or years earlier. Though former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez is facing murder charges in Bristol County, the Globe has reported that Suffolk prosecutors are also making a case to a grand jury that he should be charged in a separate double murder in Boston in 2012. Conley’s office also may have to confront requests about whether to bring charges against Patrick Nee, who’s been implicated in murders by witnesses in the ongoing murder trial of South Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger.
As if there weren’t enough crime news surfacing, Conley dug up one nearly 50 years old: He announced that investigators would exhume the body of DeSalvo and use DNA to confirm his jailhouse confession as the Boston Strangler, at least in the case of the final victim.
But Conley spokesman Jake Wark said the new inquiry into the DeSalvo evidence began with the Boston Police crime lab and had been underway since late last year. It was also handled in cooperation with the attorney general and State Police.
Wark suggested that the flurry of high-profile cases was nothing new for the district attorney ‘s office, which prosecutes 40,000 cases a year.
“This is the big city,” Wark said. “Every day is a busy day.”
The campaign is a separate operation from the DA’s office, both Wark and Conley campaign spokesman Mike Sherry noted. And given the 24-hour nature of the job, the district attorney‘s duties often upend his campaign schedule.
“It can be a logistical problem, when we would like to do a campaign event but Dan has his duties as DA,” Sherry said.
Former Middlesex district attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. noted that the district attorneys of Suffolk and Middlesex counties traditionally attract more media attention than others in Massachusetts because of the volume of crime in their districts and the intensity of the media market.
“By just doing your job, you’ve got attention. And you can’t predict when certain things in this business are going to foist you into the public,” said Leone. “Everything I’ve seen Dan Conley do has been entirely appropriate and within the bounds of doing his job.”
Along with the attention, the position delivers its own political perils, Leone noted.
“It’s like being a head football coach. You get too much credit when things go good and too much blame when things go bad,” Leone said.
Prosecutors who run for other political offices often face intense scrutiny for what they haven’t done — for lost opportunities, failed prosecutions, or investigations gone awry. The same high-profile cases that make a law enforcement candidate look like a white knight cast a dimmer glow if the cases go unsolved — a prospect that could pose a problem for Conley.
Last week’s seemingly random attack on 24-year-old Amy Lord — who police say was kidnapped outside her South Boston home and forced to withdraw money from ATMs before she was killed — has shaken the neighborhood where she lived.
And the intense focus on the crime is already prompting secondary criticism about whether law enforcement authorities pay enough attention to victims of less sensational, everyday violence.
Though Lord’s murder “hit home” for Charlotte Golar Richie, a mayoral candidate and the mother of two daughters close in age to Lord, she said: “I want to see the same high-level visibility, sense of urgency, and unity of purpose in solving cases and supporting families who have lost loved ones to violence in every neighborhood. And I’m going to work toward that as mayor.”