Rachael Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, Tuesday became the first African-American woman in Massachusetts history elected to the office of district attorney.
Rollins, a Democrat, was elected district attorney in Suffolk County, defeating Independent Michael Maloney, a Brockton defense attorney. There was no Republican challenger.
With 62 percent of precincts reported in Boston, which makes up the majority of the county, Rollins had 81 percent of the vote, according to her campaign.
She took the stage in a ballroom at the Fairmont Copley Plaza shortly before 10 p.m., accompanied by her daughter and two nieces.
Rollins, 47, said she will work to make a “smarter, more compassionate criminal justice system that works for everybody,” while “prosecuting the most serious crimes.”
“This is going to make us safer,” she said to cheering supporters.
In a statement issued by her campaign, Rollins pledged to work closely with communities throughout the majority-minority county. “Then together we’ll make our criminal justice system better and work to strengthen relationships between communities and law enforcement,” Rollins said.
Maloney, 38, challenged Rollins’s campaign proposals to not prosecute offenses like shoplifting, drug possession with intent to distribute, and trespassing, in favor of alternative approaches such as community service. He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Rollins was not the only female DA candidate to break the DA gender barrier. In Western Massachusetts, Democrat Andrea Harrington, was on track to become the first woman elected district attorney of Berkshire County.
Harrington, 43, who defeated incumbent Democrat DA Paul Caccaviello in the September primary, appeared to survive a write-in campaign Caccaviello launched in a last-ditch effort to keep his seat. The Berkshire Eagle newspaper reported that early returns showed Harrington winning in Great Barrington, North Adams, and parts of Pittsfield.
Elsewhere, incumbent DAs in Plymouth and Worcester counties prevailed over aggressive challengers.
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz, a Republican who has held the office for 17 years, faced an energetic challenge from Democrat John Bradley, a former prosecutor in his office.
Bradley said Tuesday night that early results showed he had not prevailed, and that Cruz would likely hang on to the seat. He noted the county had largely broken Republican, except for the largely blue-collar city of Brockton.
“We were really optimistic,” Bradley said by telephone Tuesday night.
“I hope that this contested election, which was certainly the most hotly contested DA race the county has seen in recent memory, will help to improve the office that I spent 20 years of my career in.”
Bradley ran on a more progressive platform that called for a repeal of cash bail, and sought to undermine the incumbent by pointing out a series of controversies that have plagued Cruz over the last several years.
Cruz, 59, has had to explain $2.4 million in legal fees for hiring an outside firm to fight a federal lawsuit filed by Bradley for wrongful termination, his slow response to allegations of sexual harassment against his former first assistant district attorney, and several dismissals of murder cases that fell apart after confidential informants refused to testify.
But Cruz was helped by his status as an incumbent and Plymouth County voters’ record of supporting more conservative candidates for local office. Cruz also had more than $50,000 in his campaign war chest on election day, compared to Bradley, who had just over $4,000 in his campaign account on Tuesday.
In Worcester, 12-year incumbent Democrat Joseph D. Early Jr., was reelected over Republican Blake Rubin, a criminal defense lawyer.
Early declared victory to his supporters at about 9:30 p.m. at a restaurant in Worcester, the Telegram & Gazette newspaper reported.
Rubin, who worked for 16 years in the DA’s office, including three under Early, attacked his former employer for his role in the removal of details from a report of the drunk driving arrest of a local judge’s daughter.
Early was investigated by the state attorney general in October 2017, after allegations surfaced that State Police troopers were pressured to remove details from the report.
The scandal led multiple State Police leaders to resign, but Early was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
On a day of heavy turnout at the polls, the contested races in each county drew heightened attention after activist groups called attention to the immense power of district attorneys. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, for example, ran an awareness campaign called “What a Difference a DA Makes.”
“More and more people see the role and how much power they have to change the system,” said Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts, who managed the campaign.
Prosecutors, he noted, “can reduce incarceration and eliminate disparities and that was our goal from the outset.”