In AG Campaign Soup, Campbell Offers Mix of Law & Governing Experience…
NORTHAMPTON—Aside from incumbent Maura Healey, the last Massachusetts Attorney General that had not previously held elective office was Edward Brooke. Thus, Andrea Campbell running for AG after completing a gig as an elected is unremarkable. Still, three of her recent would-be predecessors had been district attorneys. The last AG to be a legislator was, James Shannon, elected in 1986.
Campbell’s pitch focuses on her biography and her early career representing children and families. Yet, she does feature her tenure on the Boston City Council. It is a means to talk policy in concrete terms and to counter her remaining opponent, Shannon Liss-Riordan. Campbell’s argument may be effective, but it and her unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Boston leave a record open to criticism.
“I’m the only candidate that comes with legislative experience,” she said last week. At the time she still faced fellow Dems Liss-Riordan and Quentin Palfrey in the Sept 6 primary. He dropped out Tuesday and backed her.
With a Supreme Court gunning for longstanding precedents, Campbell argued, her background representing under-resourced communities like those in her former council district is crucial now.
“That skill set is going to be significant for the next attorney general in terms of protecting our rights,” Campbell told WMP&I via phone. “As painful as my personals story is, it relates to the challenges my constituents are facing.”
On the stump, Campbell sounds a generalist note as a legislator might. Speaking to supporters at an art gallery on the edge of downtown here, she invoked her earliest legislative initiatives, bringing the Community Preservation Act to Boston. She listed concerns people have on their minds from housing affordability and discrimination to mental health and inadequate living conditions.
“This race is also special because the AG could do so much to help you with real solutions,” she told the crowd.
Before becoming a district city councilor in 2016, having defeated a 16-term incumbent, Campbell had been a deputy counsel to Governor Deval Patrick and worked on education law for a nonprofit.
On the Council, she became Council President in her second term. In her prior campaigns and this one, she has described her struggles growing up. Her father and brothers were in and out of prison. Her mother died while traveling to visit her father. At age 29, her twin brother, Andre, died while in state custody.
Campbell’s life story is compelling and influences her rhetoric and career. Yet, the facts of her story may not fully articulate her plans as AG, especially to voters just meeting her now. Voters in and around Boston may have seen this fleshed out more clearly her bids for mayor and Council.
Her political career in Boston has been a helpful starting point, however. When asked in late July about the significance of placing her campaign office in Boston’s Codman Square in her former district, she said it conveyed accessibility.
“I want folks to know I will always be assessable to them,” she said, noting she started her campaign here and then motored off to stops to the commonwealth’s second and third cities.
“And I always show up, but I want folks to know, they should expect more than that from their AG,” she continued. “Show up, yes, but respond to the constituent services and make sure that government and these systems are responding to the needs and challenges of residents.”
Josh Zakim, a former Boston City Councilor who served with Campbell, said her lived experience came through at City Hall. Always “thoughtful” and “diligent,” he said, she “took things seriously, not just with the legal analysis, but also with real equity analysis.”
Zakim, who has endorsed Campbell, pointed to her shifting the Council’s Public Safety panel by renaming it the Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee. The move was intended to expand beyond just law enforcement itself.
“Her experience with the criminal justice system,” he said, “really clearly influenced her.”
Despite some skepticism about its effectiveness, Campbell pursued the creation of a police review board in Boston while on the Council.
“I think she was very focused on police accountability and worked with activists,” Zakim added. “We saw that when she ran at the mayor. She’s not afraid to take on powerful and entrenched interests. We saw that on the Council and I think we’ll see that as AG.”
Martha Coakley, one of five living Massachusetts AGs who have backed Campbell, met her during her 2015 Council race. At the time, Coakley lived in Dorchester and supported Campbell’s bid.
In an email, Coakley, who had been Middlesex District Attorney and ran for governor and US senate, observed that AGs need not come from a background like hers to be “the people’s lawyer.”
“Successful AGs, both in MA and across the country with whom I served, have had very different personal and legal backgrounds and experience,” she wrote. “Andrea has shown her ability to be a thoughtful and excellent lawyer, with the interest of the public always front and center. Her education, experience, both lived and through her career, have prepared her well for the demanding job of Attorney General.”
Last September, Campbell was locked in a brutal contest for mayor of Boston. She and now-mayor Michelle Wu announced in the Covid autumn of 2020. Most presumed Marty Walsh would seek reelection until he joined Joe Biden’s administration as Labor Secretary.
Walsh’s exit opened the race further. Campbell’s successor as Council President, Kim Janey, became acting mayor and launched a bid as did Councilor Annissa Essaibi George. Though Campbell and Janey differed on many issues, Boston’s sizable Black electorate split between the two Black women. Essaibi George and Wu survived the preliminary. Wu prevailed in November.
Since then, Essaiba George has backed Campbell. Janey and Wu endorsed Liss-Riordan last month.
Speaking to WMP&I, Campbell said after that defeat, many people encouraged her to run for attorney general if Healey went for the big job.
“I received encouraging calls to seriously think about it,” she said. “Ultimately, took the leap of faith thinking about my brother Andre,” the sibling that died while awaiting trial.
Among her priorities was prison reform, education access—she noted her start in education law—and getting the office to take more holistic to approach issue to better serve families.
Before Palfrey dropped out, he and Liss-Riordan bashed Campbell for not denouncing a SuperPAC that was seemingly waiting in the wings. Among the grassroots, Campbell has faced skepticism among labor and some LGBTQ activists.
Labor has long considered Liss-Riordan an ally, but critics point to Campbell’s support for Question 2 in 2016. It would have expanded charter schools. The question crashed and burned. Campbell has since said she accepts the voters’ decision.
On the LGBTQ front, critiques center on trans issues. Many point to her lack of support for single-payer healthcare and safe consumption sites. Trans persons often face difficulty affording gender-affirming care and struggle with substance abuse.
Campbell acknowledged trans persons face higher health care costs and was receptive to using precedent like the Goodridge case to sue to enforce equity in trans care. She widened the aperture to mention threats to the LGBTQ community, including housing discrimination and hate crimes. Campbell wants staff that focus on these challenges.
“Hiring someone in the office that has relationships in the [LGBTQ] community and use that lens in addressing” the issues facing LGBTQ resident is a priority, Campbell said.
With her Democratic gubernatorial nomination now a fait accompli, Healey, who would be the first gay women to become a state governor, has thrown herself behind Campbell’s candidacy. They have campaigned together often.
To some, even ardent supporters of Healey’s, that raises concerns about whether Campbell could put her foot down. Campbell has also campaigned in Springfield with mayor Domenic Sarno, whom the Supreme Judicial Court spanked in February for willfully ignoring the Police Commission ordinance. Yet, she dismissed any suggestion she would not act independently.
“Folks are stressing the importance of the chief law enforcement role of the AG, not just at the state level but at the local level,” she said. “What is rising to the top is public corruption and wanting an AG that will take that on.”
Campbell said she would not hesitate to sue or otherwise challenge local or state official breaking laws or obstructing transparency and accountability. On Healey, Campbell obviously appreciates her support, but insisted she would not be beholden.
“An AG is not accountable to a governor or an elected official,” Campbell said. “An AG is accountable to the people.”
Coakley concurred. The only attorney general in 32 years to serve alongside a Democratic governor—the last Republican AG left office to serve in Richard Nixon’s administration—Coakley said governors and attorneys general each have separate sources of authority.
“Both offices are independently elected Constitutional Offices, unlike our Federal Model or some states where the AG is appointed,” she wrote. That means these officers take separate oaths to serve the public, regardless of party.
“I have no doubt that the next AG and Governor can be collaborative as well as independent,” Coakley continued.
When he was running, Palfrey emphasized his time leading a division of the AG’s office. Liss-Riordan talks up litigation she has initiated for workers. While Campbell has practiced law, including in a gubernatorial administration, her supporters note being AG is more than lawyering.
“It’s not just a lawyer position,” Zakim, a lawyer himself, said of the attorney general. “It’s a policy position and certainly in Massachusetts it has been a policy position.”
Campbell sees it that way, too and there is truth to this belief. Many regulatory agencies fall under the attorney general and the office has the discretion to enforce countless state laws. For example, the AG shared jurisdiction with the Commission Against Discrimination to endorse civil rights laws.
Campbell observed that while working for Governor Patrick, she worked with MCAD to revamp its leadership and diversity. Its backlog improved, but has worsened again since.
“If it’s not well-resourced, if they don’t have enough staff, it makes it difficult,” she said, agreeing that the AG may need to pick up the slack.
In the final stretch of the campaign, both she and Liss-Riordan can claim some wind at their backs. US Senator Elizabeth Warren backed Liss-Riordan. Campbell has Healey and US Senator Ed Markey in her corner. Speaking to WMP&I in Boston and to supporters in Noho, she asserts the true grassroots mantle, sniping at her remaining opponent’s self-funding.
Polls show a tight race. It may be won voter by voter. Like any good statewide aspirant, Campbell promises her Northampton audience she would return to the 413 early and often.
“I will keep showing up in Chicopee. I will keep showing up in Northampton and Greenfield,” she said, “and will keep showing up and prioritizing in Western Mass.”