District attorney elections often go unnoticed.
But not this year. Especially not in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, where the race turned into a fight.
Acting Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden and Boston City Councilman Ricardo Arroyo are both vying for the Democratic nomination. And the fight quickly turned into a feud.
Arroyo is defending himself after a Boston Globe report found he was the subject of two sexual assault investigations more than a decade ago. Arroyo denied the allegations and said he was unaware of the complaints, which never resulted in criminal charges.
“So to be clear, I’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in my life,” Arroyo said at a press conference Wednesday.
Arroyo said he also believed Hayden or his supporters leaked the complaints to The Globe to smear his campaign.
“No one filing a complaint should believe that those who have access or authority to release these documents or complaints for political purposes never do so,” Arroyo said. “I think that’s an incredible violation.”
Hayden denied that his office leaked the documents. “Per state law, we do not release sexual assault investigation records,” a spokesperson for Hayden said in an email.
In another wrinkle to the accusations, a lawyer who says she represents one of the women involved in the complaints also appeared at Arroyo’s press conference.
Lawyer Brigit Melo Cronin read a statement from the woman, saying Arroyo had never assaulted her and that the complaint was being used for political purposes.
Melo Cronin also said a former Boston police officer, who is now a private investigator, contacted the woman last month and warned her that she was going to be part of a political scandal.
Meanwhile, Hayden has been busy responding to a separate allegation that his office tried to escalate a police misconduct case.
Hayden insists his office has never stopped investigating accusations that an officer pulled a gun on a black motorist during a road rage incident, refuting the claims in a Boston Globe article earlier this month. Following this story, Hayden asked a grand jury to investigate.
“This case has always remained open because I’m the one making this decision,” Hayden said. “And I never decided to close the case. And it always remained open. And it will continue to remain open until we come to a close.”
Just a few weeks ago, however, it looked like an ordinary prosecutor’s run.
Both men spoke at events in Boston marking National Night Out, which honors first responders and law enforcement.
As police handed out free pizza and ice cream, Hayden reminded voters of his job.
“I was responsible for cases coming out of that neighborhood, where I was part of the gang unit and the safe neighborhood initiative,” Hayden told the crowd.
Arroyo was there too, mingling with voters. He says he wants to continue the progressive policies of former Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who left to become US Attorney for Massachusetts in January.
“I would say it’s a very clear question whether or not we’re going to continue with the policies put in place by Rachael Rollins,” he said. Arroyo went on to say the policies “that kind of got left out” since Gov. Charlie Baker nominated Hayden for the remainder of Rollins’ term in January.
Hayden says he deserved to be elected because of his experience as a former prosecutor and former chairman of the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board. Arroyo counters that he is the best person to pursue reform efforts because he has witnessed racial disparities in the justice system as a public defender.
But consultant Susan Tracy says scandals could be the main factor in next month’s election.
“Problems arise during campaigns – that’s what happens,” Tracy said. “The question is whether they are credible and how do candidates respond to them. And then how do voters perceive those responses.”
Voters will respond in the Democratic primary on September 6. There are no Republicans in the race. So whoever wins this race will likely be the next Suffolk County District Attorney.