In race for Suffolk DA, residency questions swirl
As the crowded race for Suffolk County district attorney nears the Sept. 4 primary, questions have swirled around where some of the candidates live, giving rise to subtle jabs at their public events as the contenders try to gain an upper hand.
Under state law, the successful candidate for district attorney has until the swearing-in date of Jan. 2 to move into Suffolk County, which comprises Boston, Revere, Chelsea, and Winthrop. But three of the candidates have had to answer questions about whether they are living in the district or moved there only recently to run for office, undercutting their community bona fides.
It is a politically touchy issue in a famously parochial city where politicians often compete over whose local roots run the deepest and where even candidates who live just beyond Boston can be perceived as outsiders.
The three facing questions are Democrats Linda Champion and Rachael Rollins and independent Michael Maloney.
Rollins, who owns a house in Medford and is seen as one of the front-runners, has drawn the most attention, after moving to Roxbury earlier this year. In her campaign filings, she listed a home address that is the same as her campaign manager’s.
Rollins, who was born in Boston and raised in Cambridge, declined to comment on her residency. Her spokesman, Scott Ferson, said she is renting a room from a childhood friend and relying on family members to help take care of her daughter and two nieces in Medford.
“She moved there when she decided to run for district attorney,” Ferson said. “When she wins, she will move from this address to a residence better suited to accommodate her family, which includes her nieces, who she has guardianship over.”
Ferson declined to say when Rollins moved to the home or how much rent she pays. Rollins declined to provide a lease that would confirm she rents space in the house.
“Respectfully, I think those documents and that info [aren’t] anyone’s business,” Ferson said.
Yet the issue has surfaced during the campaign, publicly and behind the scenes. At a spring debate, residency questions arose during a sharp exchange between Rollins and Greg Henning, a veteran prosecutor who often talks about befriending men he has prosecuted.
“We need somebody in this role that doesn’t look at certain people in these communities and say . . . ‘I know you. You’re a gang member, I prosecuted you and then I mentored you later,’’’ Rollins said to applause. “We need people who look at this community and say ‘I know you. You’re my neighbor.’”
That drew a blunt response from Henning, who was raised in Beacon Hill and lives in Dorchester. “As for looking at people around the neighborhood and saying ‘you’re my neighbor,’ I have lived in, and continue to live in, Suffolk County and will continue to serve the county.”
Rollins and Henning are two of the five Democrats vying for the seat now held by Daniel F. Conley, who announced in February that he would not run for a fifth time.
The other three Democratic candidates are Champion, a former Suffolk prosecutor, state Representative Evandro Carvalho, and defense attorney Shannon McAuliffe.
Maloney, a Brockton defense attorney who is running as an independent, will face the winner of the Sept. 4 primary in November.
Henning, McAuliffe, and Carvalho, longtime Boston residents, often cite their local ties on the campaign trail.
“Of course it’s important to have roots in the community,” said Carvalho, who owns a home in Uphams Corner and often talks about men he grew up with in Dorchester who have been jailed or killed. “I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that a position as important as district attorney should go to a person who doesn’t have that depth of knowledge.”
Champion, who lived in Roxbury for about 10 years with her then-husband, moved in with her sister in Milton, near Mattapan Square, in 2015 after a divorce.
She moved back to Boston in March, primarily to run for district attorney, she said. She provided the Globe a copy of her one-year lease for a $2,075-a-month apartment in Hyde Park.
“This is a sacred role,” Champion said of the district attorney post. “It’s about being transparent. If someone has a question for me, I have to answer that question. It’s going to be the same way with witnesses and defense counsel. I’ve got to be able to respond, and the response can’t be ‘no comment’ or ‘I’ll get back to you.’ ”
Yet Champion defended Rollins’s decision to move to a temporary place in Boston as she balances raising a family and running a campaign. “I think that as a candidate you have to do what’s in the best interest of your family,” Champion said.
Asked about his residency, Maloney initially said he is living in South Boston. But in a follow-up interview the same day, Maloney acknowledged he is living in Brockton. Maloney said he moved out of South Boston about three months ago in search of lower rent.
Maloney said he was worried the revelation about his residency would hurt his campaign.
“To be candid, I was sensitive about the topic,” Maloney said. “I misled you because I was embarrassed . . . people are looking for ammunition.”
He said he has been looking to buy a place in West Roxbury, close to his favorite yoga studio in Dedham.
Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University, said a candidate who files the same address as a campaign worker raises legitimate questions. Yet he predicted the issue would probably play only a minor role in the voters’ decision.
“There may be a few voters who are offended that someone just moved to the district but . . . tell me the percentage of voters who know where the county line even is between Suffolk and Middlesex,” Berry said. “This isn’t a case of someone moving from Green Bay two weeks before the residence requirement kicked in.”
Ferson said Rollins has strong ties to Boston through her past work as general counsel for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and an assistant US attorney and for her current role as chairwoman of Legal Redress at the Boston branch of the NAACP.
Rollins will keep her home in Medford “when she wins, as a rental property,” Ferson said.
“She knows that others are conducting a whispering campaign that she doesn’t represent the community, which she finds offensive,” he said.