Thursday night’s forum before an organization representing thousands of church, mosque, and synagogue members is the last chance for the six candidates running for Suffolk District Attorney to appear together and face questions from the public.
And all but one of the candidates said they are attending. Greg Henning — a longtime prosecutor who has racked up endorsements from high-profile law enforcement officials such as Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley and former police commissioner Edward F. Davis — sent a letter Wednesday to members of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization confirming he had decided to skip the group’s last forum.
His reason: he does not like the format.
“Specifically, the organization’s requirement that all candidates respond to every question throughout the entire forum with a final Yes or No,” Henning wrote in the letter. “The complex questions and issues being presented deserve a thoughtful response.”
Organizers of the forum, which is expected to draw 500 people to the Boston Teachers Union hall in Dorchester, said they told Henning and the five other candidates weeks ago about the format. They also gave the candidates the questions ahead of time, said Beverly Williams, co-chair of the organization’s criminal justice reform team.
By requesting yes or no answers, organizers said, candidates will have to give definitive responses about issues important to the group, specifically sentencing and bail reform, collecting and releasing racial data on defendants charged by prosecutors, and the repeal of all mandatory minimums for drug offenses, Williams said.
The point, she said, is to get candidates “to be specific, to take a stand,”
“The goal of the forum was to bring all the candidates together so that our membership could come and get a sense of how to distinguish between the candidates,” Williams said. GBIO does not endorse a candidate. Williams said candidates can give nuance to their yes or no answers during the live forum and Henning was told he would have that option.
Henning said in the letter that he was looking forward to the forum until he learned of the format.
“I do not believe that Yes/No answers accurately give voters insight into each candidate and how they will run an office that deals with complex situations every day,” he said in his letter. “As I have said throughout this campaign, Suffolk County needs a District Attorney who will not treat cases or individuals on a “one-size-fits-all” basis.”
He provided a written copy of his answers to the eight questions posed by the organization. In his answers, which total more than 1,500 words, Henning does provide some specifics. For example, he said collecting data on race would be a “priority” and that he supports mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl trafficking. But he does not answer any question directly with a “yes” or “no.”
The candidates for Middlesex District Attorney, incumbent Marian Ryan and her challenger Donna Patalano, have agreed to come to GBIO’s forum. So have the two Democrats running for governor, Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie.
Henning faces former Suffolk prosecutors Evandro Carvalho and Linda Champion, Shannon McAuliffe, a defense attorney, and Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor and general counsel for the MBTA in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary. The winner will square off with independent, Michael Maloney, a Brockton defense lawyer, in November.
None of the other candidates have expressed misgivings about the format, Williams said.
“Like the rest of the membership, I am disappointed,” Williams said. “It’s very disappointing that somebody who is running for an elected office would not take the opportunity to deal with these public issues.”