Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who charged into office this year as a progressive change-maker, is backing Senator Edward J. Markey in his contested primary fight, further splintering political support between the incumbent and his chief challenger, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
Rollins’s endorsement comes amid a wave of Democratic law enforcement officials picking sides in the high-profile race. Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins appeared with Kennedy at a Monday event to announce his support of the 39-year-old congressman, while Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, a Waltham Democrat, said he, like Rollins, is endorsing Markey, 73.
The endorsements could boost the criminal justice bona fides of Kennedy and Markey early in the primary, which also includes a third candidate, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan.
But in a race where there’s often little daylight between Markey and Kennedy on individual issues, the decisions to endorse aren’t rooted totally in policy, either.
Koutoujian, for one, cited Markey’s work ethic in addition to his support of his county jail’s medication-assisted treatment program. Rollins said she has been a longtime admirer of Markey, including baby-sitting for his nephews and nieces more than 30 years ago.
“First and foremost, he asked,” Rollins said Tuesday of endorsing Markey, who she also praised for his push on tighter gun control and addressing gun violence.
“For me, it’s more about Markey and less about Kennedy,” she added. “He had me at baby-sitting. And now with the work he’s doing, it was a no-brainer.”
Tompkins said it was a “gut” feeling that pushed him to back Kennedy, who he lauded for his approach and as a “practitioner” at a time of political unrest in the country.
The sheriff, who was first appointed to his post in 2013, also cited the need for generational change, touching a vein that’s coursed through the race since the entrance of Kennedy, who was born four years after Markey was first elected to Congress.
“I’m looking at this young man to really carry that mantle, to assume that mantle of the type of leadership I’m looking for,” said Tompkins, 62, adding that he backs term limits for elected office. “I believe you go and do 20 years. That’s good. And then go home and do something else.
“I’m not saying anything untoward about Senator Markey — I think he’s a good guy,” he said. “But when you talk about generational change, I believe in that.”