Attorney General Maura Healey offered a hearty defense of the Teamsters union Wednesday, highlighting its work on behalf of children with disabilities and its endorsements of female candidates, despite last week’s federal indictments accusing several Teamsters of using “old school thug tactics” to intimidate and harass a film crew.
Healey, a Democrat, dismissed the Massachusetts Republican Party’s demands that she return $15,500 the union donated to her campaign since last year. (Healey’s campaign had also returned the Teamsters’ $15,000 campaign contribution in 2014, because of an unrelated campaign finance restriction.) In an interview that was part of the Globe’s Political Happy Hour series at Suffolk University, she encouraged the audience to keep the charges in perspective as accusations against a few individuals.
“These are allegations ...,” Healey said. “I think it’s important to recognize that.”
“Unfortunately, Maura Healey’s comments reveal she is a just a typical politician who cares more about keeping the special interests who boosted her campaign happy, when she could stay true to her word and return the money from a group whose members have been indicted for harassing women, and the use of homophobic and sexists slurs,” MassGOP spokesman Terry MacCormack said.
Five members of Teamsters Local 25 were charged with conspiracy and extortion and accused of harassing and intimidating a production crew for the Bravo network cooking show “Top Chef” when it was filming in the Boston area in the spring of 2014. Prosecutors said that Teamsters yelled profanities and racial and homophobic slurs and used violence and threats of violence to block people from entering the set.
Healey said that, particularly as a civil rights lawyer, “I denounce that kind of conduct vehemently.”
But as an organization, she said, the Teamsters have stood up for working men and women and have worked with her office on behalf of children with disabilities. Politically, she said, it was the only labor organization to endorse three women for the state’s three constitutional offices in the 2014 primary. (Healey’s Democratic rival, former state senator Warren Tolman, is a labor ally whose brother heads the AFL-CIO and who scooped up most other labor endorsements.)
“You might remember, I had a little trouble with labor in my primary, for understandable reasons. But the Teamsters were the first union to support me,” Healey said. “They were willing to come out and support women who were running against male opponents in contested races.”
Pressed by the Globe’s Joshua Miller on whether that could create a perception problem — her campaign website shows a photo of her sitting on a motorcycle with Teamsters — she joked that she couldn’t resist sitting on a Harley Davidson for a photo and that she was pictured with many other people throughout the campaign.
“I don’t think people would judge by that,” she said. “But I stand by the value of labor unions, I stand by what this particular union has been about and fighting for.”
In another contentious issue involving the city, Healey said that her office has no intention of suing casino developer Steve Wynn — unlike Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has legally challenged Wynn’s plans to build in Everett, spurring a libel suit from Wynn. Although Healey had urged the state not to issue a permit for the project until Wynn produced a long-term traffic solution for the congested area, she said her office’s role now will be to oversee the gaming industry, as the law legalizing gambling outlined.
Healey said her top priority in office has been stemming heroin and opiate use; on Wednesday, legislators advanced her bill that would criminalize trafficking of fetanyl, a synthetic opioid that is often added to heroin and that contributes to overdoses.
She also expressed no reservations about a bill that would require public schools to screen seventh- and 10th-graders for potential drug use. Noting that her mother is a school nurse — and that nurses are often the first to pick up on students’ safety issues — she said that the scourge of opioid abuse is making people eager for potential solutions.
“Based on what I see and the parents that I speak to, they are scared to death what is going to happen to their 8, 9, 10, 11-year-old, with this crisis,” she said.
With the state potentially facing a ballot question on legalizing marijuana, she expanded on her opposition, saying there is no reason for Massachusetts to rush, as officials watch the experience of legalized states such as Washington and Colorado. And she said she’d like to learn more about the health effects of marijuana, particularly on young people.
“A lot of people may be under the notion that today’s marijuana may be what they were smoking back in the ’70s or ’80s. It’s not, folks,” she said. “It’s manufactured in a very sophisticated way.”
However, she would not say whether she would actively campaign against legalizing marijuana, as the mayor has promised to do, if it reaches the ballot. She suggested priorities could shift by then.
Fantasy sports betting leagues such as Boston-based DraftKings allow fans to create rosters of real world NFL players and score points based on how those players perform on the actual field. Healey said fans can bet without worrying that they are engaged in illegal online gambling but that she is concerned about this week’s allegations that a DraftKings employee won big by betting on a rival site — allegations that some consider insider trading.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect number of arrests in the Teamsters case and incorrect amount for the Teamsters’ contributions Healey was asked to return.