Freedberg: Will dutiful defeat dazzle? For Kevin Hayden, being DA is more than just his experience

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by MIKE FREEDBERG
SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM

Seeking election to a full term as Suffolk County’s District Attorney, Kevin Hayden, who was appointed to the job by Governor Charlie Baker, cites his 35 years of experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and private practice lawyer.\

He is, of course, African American, as was his mentor, Ralph Martin, who was also appointed to the post by a Republican Governor (Bill Weld) and then easily won election to a full term. Yet, there’s more to Hayden’s CV than his public service career. There is his dad, Robert Hayden.

If you want to know Kevin Hayden, you have to find out what a significant life was lived by Robert Hayden. The elder Hayden was an historian of Black America who wrote over 20 publications on African-American culture and history. He was a founder of METCO; for five years an assistant superintendent in the Boston School system; and president of Boston’s NAACP branch. The elder Hayden, who died in January, also wrote a Black history column for the Bay State Banner and contributed regularly to the Dictionary of American Negro Biography the Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History, and American National Biography.

These are the huge shoulders on which his son Kevin stands.

Suffolk County Courthouse East Boston Dot Com
Photo courtesy Creative Commons: Suffolk County Courthouse – Boston, MA – DSC04711.JPG” by Daderot is marked with CC0 1.0.

Recently, Kevin Hayden met me for an interview. I took notes and these are what I highlighted:

I ask him how he sees his mission as Suffolk County’s top prosecutor, and though he tells me the details, the racial background of law enforcement here is what applies them to the present situation. If there has been, within Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop (the county’s four municipalities) a long history of wariness between Black residents and law enforcement, Kevin Hayden uniquely knows the long record thereof – and its opposite, co-operation, especially now that both Suffolk County’s Sheriff, Steve Tompkins, and the Congresswoman (Ayanna Pressley) representing the county’s central portion are also African-American.

Kevin Hayden
Photo credit: Mike Freedberg

Given the history, both wariness and co-operation, Hayden proposes a middle course between strict, old-fashioned prosecution and the newer, more treatment-oriented style associated with law enforcement “progressives.” Here’s how he sees his mission:
“We will continue to work with the Mayor’s office to assure safety of everyone in the City’s schools…we will also take community engagement to a new higher level… we have hired a new deputy of community engagement who will work with community partners to target the causes of street crime.”

All are important challenges, and yet Mayor Michelle Wu, whom Hayden will “continue to work with”, has endorsed his opponent.
Hayden highlights a major challenge: the continuing underpayment of assistant district attorneys – an issue about which Hayden says “we will continue to bring this matter to the legislature.” The poor pay causes a constant attrition of experienced trial court prosecutors. It’s hard to prosecute crime when your trial assistants are outsmarted by defense lawyers. Hayden assures me that his office has sufficient staff – for now.

Discussing the District Attorney office with Hayden, I get the impression that he is cautious to not say anything controversial, which indicates to me that he sees the job of chief Suffolk County prosecutor as itself controversial. Which it should not be. Is it not a given that the elected prosecutor of a major urban county should prosecute crime at its frontline level, the cheap crimes that make quality of every ordinary life a hassle?

Of course, he should prosecute violent felonies, we all agree to that. Yet such crimes are rare compared to the ordinary harassment, assaults, thefts and disturbances of the peace that go on endlessly, especially at night, and which comprise the overwhelming bulk of citizen complaints. Yet, this type of District Attorney has generated opposition from the advocates of what they call “restorative justice,” who see crime not so much as punishable as treatable, as if it were an illness, not a wrong act.

It is this battle that Hayden’s comprehensive responses want to avoid. I can’t blame him. No dutiful politician wants his or her campaign startled by social media ambushes and early-morning, ”f— the police” protests at the front doors of their homes. Hayden clearly wants to offend nobody, to get to his mission as quickly as the September 6th primary date will allow. (There is no final election opponent; the Democratic primary will decide the next officeholder). Yet, he faces an agenda opponent with a strongly known (and well-liked) family name. Ricardo Arroyo is a sitting City Councilor who, to all extent, has emerged as the leader of the Boston City Council’s “progressive’ majority.
Can a “doing-the-job, non-political” candidate defeat a charismatic agenda progressive in Boston where progressive voters stand out among a well-defined majority? Fortunately, for Hayden, Suffolk County includes Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop, communities in which his opponent’s name is less known and in which the Boston progressives carry even far less weight.

Kevin Hayden
Photo courtesy: Kevin Hayden Campaign 2022

Perhaps the election will be decided by Boston’s African-American voters. The city’s progressives would be a minor factor were it not that the City’s Black political leadership has, since 2013, committed itself to boosting the progressives over Boston’s “traditionalists.” It might be harder for these activists to dismiss a man with a Black Boston family heritage like Hayden’s. Indeed, he certainly has the active support of many, at least of the City’s old school Black leadership. He has Ralph Martin’s endorsement. Will others of Martin’s generation follow? Hayden already has the full support of the “traditionalists” – most of them the sort of white ethnics whom “progressives” politically oppose on many issues. Can he now bring to his side Black voters, who have not often linked profoundly with white ethnics since the campaigns of Bobby Kennedy?
Perhaps “do the job” is the message that makes it happen.

It is now mid-July. The choice will be made by voters in seven weeks. We will soon find out if Hayden’s dutiful defeats dazzle.

–This piece was originally published on July 15, 2022

Mike Freedberg is editor and publisher of the blog, Here and Sphere. He is also a political consultant. He regularly contributes original, participatory content to EastBoston.com.