I think it’s very easy to caricature this race as Gerry Leone, the hard-core prosecutor who’s only interested in locking ’em up and throwing away the key, vs. Jarrett Barrios, the progressive lefty who has never prosecuted a case but who has “big picture” ideas about crime and law enforcement issues. I doubt that’s really fair to either candidate. So my first question to Leone was for him to respond to that way of describing the race.
Leone spoke for about 20 minutes in response to that question. No one doubts Leone’s ability to put the bad guys behind bars – he’s been doing that successfully for 15 years at the county, state, and federal levels. But he speaks with as much, if not more, passion and commitment about the initiatives that he has created and advanced, both of the “internal” sort (such as a hiring program that dramatically increased the number of attorneys of color at the Middlesex DA’s office), and the “external” sort (such as his work on the anti-terrorism task force at the US Attorney’s office). Leone also spoke at length about the Middlesex DA community-based justice program – designed to keep kids out of the system, via among other things getting state agencies who wouldn’t normally talk to each other to work together – which he says has become a national model for similar programs in district attorney offices around the country. And he mentioned that when he was considering young prosecutors for promotions, participation in the community-based justice program was a sine qua non – no participation, no promotion, regardless of how many bad guys you locked up. Interesting, no?
There was an unmistakable common theme that ran through Leone’s discussion of the kinds of programs that he had run in the past, and that he wants to continue to work toward if elected. It’s basically this: there are a lot of stakeholders around criminal justice issues. Different state agencies with different responsibilities and areas of expertise; federal agencies with priorities that may not dovetail with those of their state counterparts; and private entities whose interests are almost by definition not the same as public agencies. This situation inevitably leads to turf battles, misunderstandings, failures of communication, and a resulting inability or unwillingness to work together. Leone has worked hard in the past, and wants to keep working hard, to break through those kinds of barriers to get these various entities to, in his words, “come together, stay together, work together.” He said that one of his chief priorities is to get people, and agencies, to collaborate and cooperate that aren’t used to doing so – something that he also calls “breaking down silos.”
Leone sees himself as uniquely qualified to take on this project. Certainly, he is personally well acquainted with a lot of the players – he’s been the number two guy at the Middlesex DA’s office, the Attorney General’s office, and the US Attorney’s office, and anyone who’s spent any time around Mass. politics knows that personal relationships matter. A lot. He also has extensive practical knowledge of how each of those agencies work, and so is well-positioned to speak to what each agency can, and cannot, do well. That, in fact, was another important point he made: that part of building those kinds of bridges was to know when your agency is not the best one to handle a particular issue, even if it technically falls within your jurisdiction, and he recalled instances in which he had done exactly that.
We spent nearly an hour with Leone, and I could write a lot more about what we talked about (his focus on paying special attention to the most vulnerable populations, such as women, children, and the LGBT community, and his emphasis on not sacrificing civil liberties on the altar of public safety, among other things), but that’s enough for now. Was I impressed? Yes, yes I was. I’m convinced of this: it’s not accurate to write Leone off as the “conservative” candidate – I saw no evidence of that in our talk and I haven’t seen any elsewhere – or to pigeonhole him as “just a prosecutor” who only cares about locking up bad guys. Of course, putting the bad guys in jail is important, and Leone noted that whoever takes over the Middlesex DA’s office had better understand how to manage that aspect of the job or there won’t be time for anything else. But don’t believe the caricature. Leone knows there’s a lot more to the job he’s seeking than just prosecuting cases, and he’s thought a lot about how to accomplish it.