Deval and the lawmen

Why haven’t the law-and-order Democrats been defending their party’s candidate for governor?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 19, 2006

For the past few weeks, Kerry Healey has pounded the Bay State with the message that Deval Patrick is dangerously weak on crime. She has used his past work and advocacy on behalf of the accused, the convicted, and the incarcerated to accuse Patrick of coddling criminals rather than protecting victims.

If only there were some respected law-and-order Democrats around who could stand up for him, reassure the public, criticize the Romney-Healey administration’s public-safety failures, expose the folly of Healey’s smears, and praise Patrick for his work and ideas on all sides of the law-enforcement mosaic.

In fact, Massachusetts is chock full of such officials, current and former. So why have we heard so little from Democratic district attorneys, sheriffs, and others during this contretemps?

The answer has a number of components, including Patrick’s puzzling failure to court their active support, and the deafening silence of Attorney General Tom Reilly, sore loser of the Democratic primary.

But part of the answer also lies in the nature of law-enforcement culture, where knee-jerk defensiveness with regard to anything remotely pro-defendant often trumps everything else — including politics.

Two long weeks after Healey launched her “Deval defends cop-killers” ad, Patrick could wangle only a few of these law-and-order Democrats for a series of October 18 speaking events intended to turn the crime issue against Healey: unopposed DA candidates Gerry Leone of Middlesex County and Joe Early of Worcester County, and Sheriffs Guy Glodis, Bob Garvey, and Michael Ashe.

Martha Coakley, Middlesex DA and shoo-in to replace Reilly as AG, finally stepped up to the plate this week and filmed a television ad for Patrick that defends his record. But even she seems more ambivalent than pols usually are in the last weeks of a heated campaign.

“You could say in a general way that Republicans have been more sympathetic to our issues, law-enforcement issues, over the last 20 years,” Coakley tells the Phoenix.

Deval Patrick’s former — perfectly reasonable — qualms about whether justice was done to Benjamin LaGuer sounds to law-enforcement officials like an attack on retiring long-time Worcester County DA John Conte, and by extension all state prosecutors. “I have real concerns about his advocacy for Benjamin LaGuer,” says David Capeless, DA of Berkshire County. “I would want a governor who thinks first about victims, or at least thinks equally about them.”

It’s understandable that Capeless and other DAs affiliated with the Democratic Party don’t want to publicly praise Patrick for ever suggesting that Conte had committed an injustice. But most partisan politicians, such as state representatives or mayors, would swallow that one disagreement and consider the bigger picture of getting their party’s candidate elected governor.

For good or ill, that isn’t the instinct of most DAs and sheriffs, says Coakley. “They’re probably the least political of anyone in the state,” she says. “For most of them, this is their first elected job.”

Lack of partisanship may help explain why so many have been unable to graduate to elected offices beyond those in criminal justice — and why they have been so unsuccessful at lobbying Beacon Hill for the resources they need.

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