The most dispiriting race of this primary season is the one for Middlesex District Attorney. Middlesex County is huge, and the District Attorney’s job is crucial. He or she is on the front line of investigating and prosecuting actual crimes committed against actual people who live in the county. The job needs to be done properly.
Unfortunately (as has already been noted by others), neither Democratic candidate inspires a great deal of confidence (and there’s no Republican candidate – bravo, Mass. GOP). Michael Sullivan’s embarrassing series of ethical missteps, widely and justifiably covered in the press, are only one aspect of a larger problem with his candidacy, which is that he doesn’t seem to be especially well qualified. Rather, he looks like the classic local pol who hops from government job to government job (sometimes holding down a couple at the same time), counting on voter apathy and, in Sullivan’s case, personal and family connections, to install him in the next post. His qualifications that seem most relevant to the job? He was a low-level Assistant DA in the late 1980s, and he worked in the Attorney General’s office briefly after that. Good grief.
Marian Ryan, for her part, at least has a lot of experience as a prosecutor. But in her brief tenure after being appointed by Governor Patrick to fill out the unexpired term of Gerry Leone, she has not exactly covered herself in glory. Most famously, the hideous Jared Remy case ended in tragedy after being badly mishandled by her office, and her subsequent withholding of part of the report she herself commissioned to figure out what went wrong was a huge mistake.
In addition, a lot of people in the DA’s office have resigned under her tenure, which doesn’t exactly suggest that she inspires confidence and positive morale in the office (though, to be fair, high turnover in that office is not uncommon). Being a state prosecutor is a hard job – the pay is lousy, and the caseloads are high – and if the person at the helm makes it unpleasant to work there, how can we possibly expect qualified lawyers to want to take on the job?
So the choices are not ideal. We support Ryan, because we think that the Middlesex DA at least needs to be qualified for the job, and because Sullivan’s ethical lapses are too serious to ignore in a person with primary responsibility for enforcing the law. But we urge Ryan to learn from past mistakes (as, to her credit, she has promised to do), and we hope for the best going forward.