Although Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington hasn’t announced that she will run for reelection next fall, it appears obvious she will. Harrington is laying the groundwork for a campaign, but, more significantly, it is impossible to imagine her leaving a job after one term that she fought so hard to get in a punishing, acrimonious 2018 campaign.
So the question becomes: Can anyone defeat her in 2022?
Incumbent district attorneys across the state are difficult to dislodge. While Harrington defeated Berkshire District Attorney Paul Caccaviello in 2018, he had been appointed to the position months before the election following the retirement of DA David Capeless. Caccaviello, the former first assistant district attorney, had not gone before the voters until the 2018 election.
Harrington campaigned as a reform candidate, and the Berkshires’ progressive Democrats carried her to victory. Her agenda in office will only solidify their support, and a primary challenger is all but doomed to defeat. She has, however, opened herself to a challenge from the center or the right.
Harrington’s emphasis on criminal justice reform has engendered criticism that she is not tough enough on crime. Jeanne Kempthorne, Harrington’s first chief of appeals, resigned in 2020, asserting that Harrington had created a “campaign culture” in the nominally apolitical office. The firing of Helen Moon, the DA’s director of special projects, earlier this year drew attention to the high turnover rate in the office through firings and voluntary departures.
This past summer, The Eagle’s Amanda Burke brought to light Harrington’s attempt to get Central Berkshire District Court Judge Jennifer Tyne, who presides regularly over the DA’s district court cases, removed from the bench because she presented a “significant threat to public safety.” Paul C. Dealey, the chief justice of the district court system, not only rejected Harrington’s request but praised Tyne’s rulings.
Attorney groups in the state reacted angrily to Harrington’s effort to have Tyne dumped, with the board of directors of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers accusing Harrington in a letter of engaging in an “indefensible and unethical effort to circumvent fair process.”
The Tyne incident was plainly a factor in the decision of Robert Sullivan, a defense attorney and prosecutor in Capeless’ office, to announce his intent to run for district attorney. Sullivan called for Harrington’s resignation following her attempt to have Tyne removed.
Sullivan will run as an unenrolled candidate, which is a challenging way to get elected. A greater challenge in Berkshire County would be to run as a Republican, as the party is moribund in the Berkshires and Republican candidates are largely unpopular.
Running without regard to political party, however, is really how a race for district attorney should be run. Sullivan was correct when he told The Eagle that “the goals of the job should be apolitical.” Judith Knight told The Eagle she is considering another bid for the office and other candidates could emerge in the months ahead to change the equation.
In 2018, Harrington captured just 39.5 percent of the vote in a three-way race in the Democratic preliminary, beating Caccaviello by 692 votes. In the general election, Caccaviello, running as a write-in candidate, the most difficult possible way to run for office, still got 34 percent of the vote.
Harrington now has a track record which will win her and lose her some votes. Her incumbency and her support from progressive Democrats will make her the favorite in 2022. The controversies of her time in office, some of them unforced errors, and the numbers from 2018 suggest that an unenrolled candidate — just one candidate, as two or more will divide the anti-Harrington vote — has a realistic shot at an upset.
Bill Everhart is an occasional Eagle contributor.