Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan decisively held on to her seat Tuesday night despite a grueling campaign marked by questions about her management style and her handling of the Jared Remy case.
With just under 80 percent of precincts reporting, Ryan had won 58 percent of the vote against Middlesex clerk of courts Michael Sullivan, an experienced campaigner who fought to portray his opponent as an ill-equipped manager with questionable judgment. He called Ryan to concede just after 9 p.m.
But Ryan, 59, said her victory showed voters cared about her decades of experience as a Middlesex prosecutor.
“Obviously, I’m thrilled,” Ryan said. “My team worked very, very hard. We had a message that clearly resonated with the voters — that this is a job that requires experience and a professional prosecutor.”
Ryan described Sullivan as “gracious” in the brief phone call.
She said despite the acrimony of the campaign, she still considers Sullivan a friend.
“We’ve known each other for years,” Ryan said. “This is a wonderful job. I fully understand why someone would campaign hard for it. Right now, I’m really focused on doing the work of the administration.”
The two candidates, who were vying for a seat that has been the launching pad for the last two attorneys general, had nasty exchanges in the last weeks of the campaign, with Ryan accusing Sullivan of ethical lapses and Sullivan accusing Ryan of mismanagement and failing to run a transparent office.
In a telephone interview, Sullivan said he credited Ryan’s victory largely to the strong performances by women such as Martha Coakley and attorney general candidate Maura Healey at the top of the ballot.
Sullivan said Ryan’s attacks on him — she criticized him for taking a consulting job for a developer while he was still clerk of courts — helped deflect criticism of how she handled the office in the wake of the Remy case. A prosecutor agreed to release Remy without bail in August 2013 after he smashed his girlfriend into a bathroom mirror. Remy killed her two days later.
Dozens of people have left the district attorney’s office since she took over. The Globe interviewed a dozen people who said her harsh management style and policies she instituted in the aftermath of the case led to their departures.
“The personal attacks took away from the issues that were raised relative to management,” Sullivan said. “Those were paramount issues, and I hope that they are taken to heart and corrective actions are made to address them.”
Because there is no Republican challenger, Tuesday’s results mean that Ryan will not face competition for the seat in November’s general election.
With only a small percent of registered voters coming out to the polls, the low turnout had been seen as a possible boon to Sullivan, whose family has held political office in Middlesex since 1936. Political analysts said his knowledge of the electorate and his ability to get out the vote could help him against Ryan, a political neophyte who only began building her campaign after Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the job in April 2013.
But political analysts cited the power of the incumbency and Ryan’s gender — she is the only female district attorney in the state — as big advantages in an election with other women at the top of the ballot.
For voters, Charlie Keefe, a semi-retired funeral director, who voted in Porter Square, the candidates’ professional background was key to his decision. He declined to say for whom he cast his ballot but gave a big clue when he said he wanted a candidate with “experience and longevity” in the office.
“A lot of people say Mike is not really well-qualified,” said Keefe, 63 years old. “She has been in the job for what? 18 years?”
Technically, she joined the office 34 years ago.
At Cambridge City Hall, a voter said she had not followed the race very closely and voted for Ryan simply “because she’s a woman.”
Kate Joyce, 54, a custodian at City Hall, said she voted for Sullivan based on his record in Cambridge and his family’s history in the city. His father was the city’s mayor at one point, and his uncle served as clerk of courts.
“I think he just comes from good stock,” Joyce said. “His family has helped a lot of people . . . Overall, they’re family people. They’re neighborhood people.”