Wednesday, September 26, 2007

District attorney by fatal default.

District attorney by fatal default.
by Kevin John Sowyrda

Boston and Beyond

Run, Michael, run!

by Kevin John Sowyrda
contributing writer

The ongoing Chernobyl which is the career of Suffolk County District
Attorney Dan Conley - the latest disgrace, of course, would be the the
no-confidence vote in the District Attorney taken last week by the Boston
police detectives union - makes me long for what might have been.

But first some background - and a bit of news. Conley is the chief law
enforcement officer for a county with 687,000 residents. He was appointed to
the position by Gov. Jane Swift in Feb., 2002. Since then, he has excelled
at earning acquittals for violent criminals while dismissing substantive
accusations of his politicizing the D.A.'s office to the detriment of
professional law enforcement. After chatting with four command level
personnel from Schroeder Plaza over the weekend, I was left with the
impression that the police honestly believe that the D.A.'s office is being
run like the White House: It can be counted on for a steady flow of
incompetent decisions, silly bravado and stubbornness. None of which is what
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. likely had in mind for the city of his
birth. But I digress .

It's hard to disagree with the commanders I spoke with. What poses as a
D.A.'s office for New England's most densely populated county is beginning
to resemble a plotline in an episode of The Simpsons, complete with the dark
humor. Just look at the ridiculous turf war Conley has launched against the
Boston Police Department. This summer, he transferred authority to
investigate homicides committed on MBTA property from the Boston Police
Department to the State Police. It was, apparently, Conley's petulant way of
expressing his pique at not having been consulted when B.P.D. Commissioner
Ed Davis decided to restructure the B.P.D. homicide unit.

Conley's stunt over turf is embarrassing and it detracts from the job of
fighting crime in the city. But what makes it particularly painful to watch
is knowing that it was never supposed to be this way. Former City Councilor
Dan Conley, for many years the quintessential back bencher and non entity at
Boston City Hall, won the D.A.'s post on the coattails of political tragedy.

Conley's better known and respected opponent in the 2002 election for the
post, Boston City Councilor Brian Honan, died in July of that year from
complications related to cancer surgery. Bostonians felt Honan's loss keenly
because he was the non-politician's politician, a man focused on public
service and not personal advancement. The power of Honan's memory explains
the presence of 650 people who came out for the fourth annual Brian Honan 5K
Run in Allston this past Sunday.

Sadly, Honan passed away just when Boston needed him the most, making his
death a political tragedy as well as a personal one. Honan handled homicide
cases as an assistant district attorney before he entered politics. He was
widely viewed as a smart, hard working public servant and the best successor
to District Attorney Ralph Martin, who left office before the end of his
term to go into private practice. Although Conley should have held an
advantage for having maneuvered his way into office seven months before the
September primary thanks to the appointment by Swift, Honan was the odds on
favorite to win. Indeed, Conley's own supporters have confessed to me - and
others - over the years that Honan would have surely bested Conley in the
race for D.A. And he was favored for the very best of reasons: He had
established a concrete reputation as a leader who could build consensus to
solve serious problems.

The chances of Conley ever being praised as a consensus builder, meanwhile,
are identical to the chances of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marching in next year's
Gay Pride. The fourth grade-style antics from Conley this summer earned him
not just a no-confidence vote, but a virtually unprecedented call from
Boston police detectives for his resignation.

We'll refrain from joining the growing chorus chanting Conley's political
funeral march; but it would be best for Boston that a qualified candidate
emerge to challenge Conley as his six year term nears an end.

Enter City Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty. It's long been rumored that
Flaherty wanted the appointment to the D.A.'s post back in 2002, but settled
for a backroom deal instead that gave him the City Council presidency and a
promise from the Mayor that he would only seek one more term in office -
thus clearing the way for a run by Flaherty. Now that it looks like Menino
is going to run again for reelection, we hear that Flaherty is demanding the
Mayor's support in a bid to unseat Conley next year.

To all that, we say this: Run, Michael, run!