MASSACHUSETTS : CHOOSING A NEXT ATTORNEY GENERAL

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top photo : Warren Tolman with State Rep. Ed Coppinger of West Roxbury

bottom photo : Maura Healey at a meet & greet in Jamaica Plain

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Voters have to choose, sometimes between the lesser of two evils but not always. once in a while voters get to choose between two candidates both superb. That’s difficult. it’s difficult for me. In politics I’m not used to such luxury, but in the current race to choose a new Massachusetts Att0rney General that’s what we’ve got.

Warren Tolman would have been a superior candidate for governor much less Attorney General. Watertown town meeting member, State Representative, State Senator; retired to private practice as an attorney of distinction. his brother Steven Tolman is a major, long time labor leader in our state. Tolman speaks impressively, has commanding presence, should easily be nominated and just as readily elected over the very honorable but politically nowhere, Republican nominee, John Miller of Winchester.

Except that Tolman has a rival of almost equal resume and who is a very eloquent speaker to boot. Maura Healey currently serves as Martha Coakley’s top Att0rney General assistant and claims insider status : she knows the office and has alrready worked — successfully, passionately — on the issues it confronts. At a recent met and greet at Canary Square in Jamaica Plain — hosted by District City councillor Matt O’Malley, Healey spoke forcefully on point, hitting the bullseye on every count, from civil rights to consumer protection to mortgage lender confrontations. She also looked terrific — and yes, that may seem like a sexist remark, but it still matters a lot where a female candidate is at issue. (and is there something wrong with looking one’s best ? I hope not.)

Tolman will NOT get the authoritative better of Healey. But neither will she get the better of him. When it comes to fund raising, both candidates show major clout. Each has raised more than four of the seven or eight) Governor candidates. Below is a tally of each’s fundraising since March 1, 2014 :

Tolman :

raised March 1 -1 5 41,217.97
raised March 16-31 94,598.47
raised April 1 – 15 56,310.00
raised April 16-30 75,161.50
raised May 1 – 15 64,177.48
raised May 16-31 98,979.88
— ending balance 766,262.14

Healey

raised March 1 -15 19,651.86
raised March 16-31 81,736.11
raised April 1 – 15 25,145.90
raised April 16-30 81,377.81
raised May 1- 15 23,474.61
raised May 16-31 79,498.89
— ending balance 484,884.90

The money says that Healey is an underdog. So does her following : it’s weighted heavily to the Progressive side, representing about one-third — not more — of activist Democrats. Tolman, on the other hand, commands big support from labor — as you’d expect — and from legislators and establishment types.

Tolman hasn’t set priorities yet, and it’s unlikely he will concentrate on cutting edge legal strategies. Healey will surely oversee the state’s three casino projects rigorously ; she opposes casinos but acknowledges that our State is probably going to have them. Tolman’s labor supporters very much want the casinos for the jobs they will bring.

All this said, both candidates merit a strong thumbs up from this journalist, and they have it. It may be a cowardly decision on my part, but i am going to say it anyway : readers, pick either candidate. You won’t go wrong.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

RETHINKING INCARCERATION : THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ACTS

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The United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced this weekend that he is taking action to change the incarceration results of Federal prosecutions.

Specifically, he has memo’d all United Stated Attorneys to no longer specify the amount of drugs seized in criminal indictments, thereby avoiding mandatory sentencing laws that have led to a huge expansion, these past 30 years or so, in numbers of people incarcerated.

Holder’s action is a positive step indeed. Incarceration has for far too long ruled the justice system in our nation. As many have noted, America totals five percent of the world’s people but a full 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. This would be an intolerable condition, morally and otherwise, in any modern nation. How can it possibly be true of the country that we who live in it call “the land of the free” ?

Again, as many have noted, almost half of those incarcerated have committed non-violent, usually drug crimes. Others are elderly or have served the major portion of their sentences — terms handed to them by overly harsh, mandatory sentencing laws enacted thirty years ago and more. Trial judges used to have discretion in sentencing, as well they should, given that they see the entire trial process as it plays out before their eyes. Every case is different; discretion to the judge allowed him or her to include these differences into the record as it applied to sentencing. Mandatory sentence laws did both defendants and judges a great disservice, not to mention the harsh edge that it imposed on the entire system.

The 1980s were a time of obsession about crime brought about the advent, on the street, of “crack,” a smoked form of cocaine that drove its users to crazy acts. The same decade saw the rise of an hysteria that child-abuse was going on at day care centers. Many day care center people were prosecuted and hounded– lives ruined — as in the 1692 Salem witch trials (an d those of us who call Salem our native city know the horrors of that hysteria only too well.) As it turned out, every single one of these day care hysteria cases was overturned and the lives of those impacted restored to them as best could be. Incarcerations for non-violent offenses, however, have taken far longer to reform.

Holder supports his move by making it a cost issue. This is not mere eyewash. Incarceration costs states and the Federal government almost $ 100 billion a year. As almost two million of us are incarcerated, the dollar amount equals about $ 50,000 per prisoner — most of it being paid as wages to prison guards, wardens, medical people, and the maintenance of prison buildings and systems. Because there is huge money involved, the movement to reduce incarceration actually began, not with Holder’s recent move, but with conservative “red” states such as Texas. Obsessed by huge costs that must be paid for by taxes, these states have been first to remove non-violent offenders from the incarceration system wherever feasible. Little wonder, then, that the numbers of Americans incarcerated has fallen in each of the past three years — and the rate of decrease is accelerating.

Here and Sphere has no objection to using money issues as a reason to reduce incarceration. Nonetheless, we cannot avoid the moral and common sense concerns. In what way does incarceration of non-violent, mostly drug, offenders, supersede rehabilitation, community service, and detox centers ? Nor is it morally right that mandatory incarceration has fallen overwhelmingly on men of color. Almost one-third of all American men of color have been incarcerated at least once during their lives ! Indeed, more American men of color have experienced incarceration than were held in slavery at the timer of the Civil War. Men of color comprise five percent of the population but 40 percent of those in prison on death row.

Holder’s action will not alter the death row statistic; but his move will certainly and justifiably ease the disproportion that has put so many men of color on a path to long incarceration. For this, we applaud Holder’s action more loudly than because of its money saving.

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^ Judge Shira Schendlin of Federal Court for the New York District

Note : today, as we write this editorial, the news has come of a New York Federal Judge’s finding that New York City’s notorious “stop and frisk” police practice is unconstitutional. Specifically, District Judge Shira Scheindlin found that “stop and frisk” policy has profiled people of color, violating their civil rights protected by both the 4th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. As Scheindlin said, “many police practices may be useful for fighting crime — preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example — but because they are unconstitutional, they cannot be used no matter how effective.”

One could add to the list of unconstitutional police practices the taser-ing of citizens, not to mention the shooting of unarmed suspects. Nonetheless, Scheindlin’s decision is most welcome and a timely companion to Attorney General Holder’s move. Perhaps the word ” justice ” will now begin to mean something just as well as something punitive.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : DAN CONLEY FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL ?

 

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^ Dan Conley : more a law officer than a Mayor ?

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Question : has any Suffolk County District Attorney ever been elected Boston’s mayor ? This writer can’t think of one.

Perhaps this is why rumors abound that Dan Conley, the current “DA,” will leave the Mayor race to seek the office of Massachusetts Attorney General instead. Supposedly all that Conley is waiting for is current “AG” Martha Coakley announcing her candidacy for Governor – a decision that all observers expect.

If true, the move by Conley makes sense. He has amassed barrels of money – at last report his account had well over $ 1,000,000 on hand – and proposed a bold agenda, yet still lags in recent polls that show him running third to Marty Walsh and John Connolly. It is Connolly and Walsh who have won the past week’s major endorsements; Conley was passed by.

The murder of Amy Lord and the pending indictments of Aaron Hernandez have brought enormous publicity to Dan Conley. Yet none of it has helped his Mayoral hopes. If anything, the publicity has actually hurt Conley. Crime and prosecution are certainly big matters to voters; but they are not matters that people identify with being Mayor.

The issues that voters ascribe to their Mayor are these : zoning; schools;  development;  civil rights; and, most sweeping of all, quality of life – in the neighborhoods, with street cleaning and snow removal as well as road repair, and Downtown, moving it to a closing hour more progressive than the current 2 A.M. absurdity. Conley, as District Attorney, deals with hardly any of this.

Were Conley to leave the mayor race, who would benefit most of the 9 % of voters that current polls give him ? Nine percent of the likely Primary vote totals about 14,000 votes. Obviously the 14,000 will not go only to one Mayoral contender. That said, as we see it, the largest block of this 14,000 will go to the remaining “traditional” candidates. And not just any of them; the most significant benefits will surely go to Councillor-at-Large John Connolly and State Representative Marty Walsh, and not to District 5’s City Councillor, Rob Consalvo.

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^ Rob Consalvo : being squeezed out ?

Here’s why we see Conley’s support going chiefly to Connolly and Walsh:

Conley lives in Ward 20. So does John Connolly. Connolly is polling in first p[lace. As voters like to pick winners rather than give up a vote on someone who won’t likely win, Connolly is sure to pick up most of the “local guy” vote that Conley is now drawing. Consalvo, too, has strong support in Ward 20; but he has failed to win recent endorsements, indeed was passed on by St. Rep. Carlo Basile of East Boston. If Consalvo can’tr win  the support of an Italian-name legislator, who can he win that he does not already have ? He will pick up some Conley votes, yes; but not nearly enough.

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^ John Connolly : will benefit if Conley leaves Mayor race

But that’s not the whole story. Conley has paid much attention for months now to South Boston. He campaigned there on April lst, when that neighborhood (and Dorchester) chose a new State Senator. (Here and Sphere photographed him that day campaigning among voters at Gate of Heaven parish hall, where two South Boston precincts voted.) South Boston  is still home to large numbers of city and county employees; and Conley’s Irish name surely still draws many votes in the City’s archetypal Irish-name neighborhood (though that is changing, as we all know).

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^ Dan Conley campaigning at Gate of Heaven parish hall on April lst.

In Southie, the winner of most Conley votes would likely be Marty Walsh, not John Connolly. Walsh lives in Savin Hill, the Dorchester neighborhood closest to “Southie” culturally and proximately. Like Connolly, Walsh, looks a winner. He polls a close second to Connolly and has significant support from Labor Unions both public and private – groups strongly represented in the South Boston’s vote.

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^ Marty Walsh : major support from the City;’s Unions – strong in South Boston

For some time now, the September primary for this year’s Mayor race has looked like a Walsh and Connolly “final.” Dan Conley leaving it to run for Attorney General makes this Primary result almost a certainty. It WILL Be a certainty if the many “new Boston” candidates now dividing about 25 % of the likely Primary vote don’t stop chasing their own individual dreams, none of which can come true if all keep on chasing. The “new Boston” vote can command the Primary and win the “final.” But it can’t do anything if it continues on its current eight-candidate course.

Dan Conley’s momentous decision awaits.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WE APPROVE : THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT MOVES AGAINST TEXAS VOTE SUPPRESSION

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^ Attorney General Eric Holder : sues to protect Texas voters

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Any worry we may have had, that the Supreme Court’s recent decision to throw out the 40-year-old criteria supporting Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act might interrupt Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department from protecting Americans’ voting rights, has proved wrong. The Justice Department has moved right ahead anyway, under Section 4 of the act — which requires a finding of actual discriminatory inhtent — to block Texas from so discriminating.

We approve the DOJ’s move. Fully approve it.

No right, other than that of life itself, is more basic to everyone’s equality in our democracy than voting rights. Texas has sought for quite some time now to undermine the voting power of voters its dominant Republican party does not like. This must be fought every step of the way. It is wrong, it is immoral.

The Department of Justice is now moving in Federal Court to enjoin the Texas legislature’s newly drawn State House and State Senate districts — maps that shove voters the Republicans want no part of into districts such voters cannot win. Specifically, the Attorney General Holder asserts that the Texas Republican party is discriminating against Hispanic voters in favor of White voters. Not one week after the Supreme Court ruling, the Texas GOP pushed its manoeuvered map through the legislature and into law. The intent is plain.

If the Federal Court agrees, the GOP map will be blocked. That is the first step. The next step is to get the Court to set up its own panel to draw such legislative districts as will treat all voters fairly. It has been done before, in other states, and not only under the Voting Rights Act.

Holder and his law staff have many issues they can take up with Texas. The state’s radical new abortion restriction law is one; the state’s refusal to offer health insurance to 25 % of Texans is another. School curricula, pay equity for women, and the nation’s most harshly administered criminal law all demand Federal intervention wherever legal means can be found to do so. The first step, though, is to protect every Texan’s equal vote. The DOJ is taking that step. We hail its doing so.  

The need for DOJ intervention may also arise in North Carolina, where a regressive new legislature is repealing some civil rights gains that took half a century to achieve. We support the DOJ for the North Carolina mission as well, if needed — indeed we support the DOJ’s protection of voters’ equality wherever such protection is put at risk by backward powers.

—- The Editors / Here and Sphere