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Longtime Suffolk district attorney Dan Conley endorses candidate Greg Henning

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley and Greg Henning.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley and Greg Henning. Globe staff/file photos

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley officially endorsed veteran prosecutor Greg Henning Saturday morning, an announcement that was long expected but makes clear whom the sitting incumbent wants to succeed him once he leaves office in January.

Conley, who announced in February that he would not seek a fifth term, joined Henning in Cleary Square in Hyde Park to declare his support, before the two men went door-knocking together to greet voters.

“Greg Henning’s unparalleled experience makes him the clear choice to serve as the next Suffolk County District Attorney,” Conley said in a prepared statement released by Henning’s campaign. “Greg has proven himself to be a leader among his peers in smart prosecution and community engagement. The next District Attorney needs to prioritize public safety while continuing Suffolk County’s leadership in reforming prosecution practices . . . Greg has proven he is ready to do this job, and I am proud to endorse him.”

In the same statement, Henning praised Conley’s tenure.

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“District Attorney Dan Conley has worked to keep the residents of Suffolk County safe for 16 years,” he said. “I am honored to have his support in this campaign so I can build on the work he’s done as Suffolk County’s next DA.”

Henning faces four Democratic challengers in the race: state Representative Evandro Carvalho, a former Suffolk prosecutor; Linda Champion, who also spent two years as a Suffolk prosecutor; Shannon McAuliffe, a longtime defense attorney; and Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor and former general counsel of the MBTA. The winner of the Sept. 4 primary will face Michael Maloney, a Brockton defense attorney and an independent, in the November general election.

Carvalho has received a slew of endorsements from sitting legislators, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, while McAuliffe and Rollins have gotten endorsements from liberal, high-profile proponents of criminal justice reform.

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McAuliffe’s backers include retired federal judge Nancy Gertner and Suffolk Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins.

Rollins has been endorsed by, among others, Shaun King, a black activist with a large social media following, and state Senator William Brownsberger, a leading voice in the movement to reform the state’s criminal justice system.

Champion, the daughter of a Korean mother and black father, has been endorsed by the National Association of Intercultural Family Mission, a Missouri-based nonprofit that advocates for Korean women and Asian-American children.

But in such a crowded field of candidates, the endorsement of Henning by the sitting office-holder could send a strong signal to voters who are satisfied with the current administration or conversely help clarify the choice for those anxious for change.

Henning has worked for 10 years as an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk DA’s office, where he led the gun prosecution task force and most recently was head of the gang unit.

He left the office in 2011 to work at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School in Hyde Park, where he taught eighth-grade English and 12th-grade constitutional law.

He returned to the prosecutor’s office in 2013.

Other candidates have described Henning as the “heir apparent” to Conley and pointed to his opposition to appointing a special prosecutor outside of the county to investigate police-involved shootings as a sign that he would be reluctant to make changes in the office.

In his statement, Henning said under Conley, the incarceration rate in the county fell 40 percent. He praised the current policy of assigning Suffolk prosecutors to investigate such incidents, calling it a transparent process in which case files become open to the public after an investigation is complete.

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Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.