Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden Tuesday night defeated Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in their Democratic primary, according to Associated Press projections, ending a bruising, ugly contest that was rife with controversy. The apparent victory clears a path for the 54-year-old Roslindale resident to serve a full term as the county’s top law enforcement official.
Just a few minutes before midnight, Arroyo declined to concede, saying his campaign was still waiting for more than 15,000 ballots — largely early, mail-in ballots — to be counted. “That number is enough to change the outcome of this race depending on how that goes,” he said. “We’re statistically still in; the numbers are still there.”
Unofficial results were not fully tabulated nearly four hours after the polls closed, but the AP called the race for Hayden with 75 percent of precincts reporting. At that time, Hayden held a 10-point lead on Arroyo.
Hayden, seen as the more centrist and status quo candidate, had never previously run for public office before and had to weather criticism of his handling of a police misconduct case in the weeks prior to Tuesday’s primary. But he bested Arroyo, a 34-year-old two-term councilor, progressive police reform advocate, and scion of a well-known local political family whose campaign was buffeted in recent days by the surfacing of years-old sexual misconduct allegations.
Hayden declared victory shortly before midnight, after the AP called the race in his favor. In his speech, Hayden reiterated this campaign promises to go after gun trafficking, to seek alternatives to prosecution from those suffering from addiction, and to stand up to hate crimes and white supremacy.
“We’ve done so many great things, but with today’s decision by the voters, we’re going to do a whole lot more,” Hayden told his supporters at the SoWa Power Station. “I’ve staked my entire career on that.”
There were stark and substantive policy differences between Hayden and Arroyo, but any platform divergences were swallowed up by the controversies that defined the race in its closing weeks. With no Republican candidate to face in the general election, Hayden now has a clear path to become the DA for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.
In the run-up to primary day, Hayden wrestled with his share of scandal. He faced questions, criticism, and calls for an outside probe after a Globe investigation exposed a coverup by Transit Police officers and raised questions about how prosecutors handled the case.
Arroyo, a Hyde Park native and former public defender, was thought by some political insiders to be the odds-on favorite in the contest earlier this summer. He had run successful campaigns before while Hayden had not, and had extensive political connections in the region. (His father is the current Suffolk register of probate and previously served on the Boston City Council, as did one of his brothers.)
But recently, Arroyo also confronted revelations of two investigations of possible sexual assault by him when he was a teenager and the question of whether he purposefully omitted information about the subsequent investigations on his bar application.
Arroyo was never criminally charged, and he has steadfastly denied ever sexually assaulting anyone. He has also claimed that he did not know about the investigations. However, investigative records related to the 2005 case contradict Arroyo’s claim that he never knew about that probe.
The woman in a 2007 case has since said Arroyo did not assault her. But in an interview with the Globe, the woman from the 2005 case said she stands by what she told police, that Arroyo pressured her to perform oral sex several times when the two were high school classmates.
Speaking to reporters at his party, Arroyo nodded to the sexual assault allegations and contended that his opponent had abused the powers of the district attorney’s office and again called for him to be investigated. The allegations against him, he added, clearly affected the race. “I can’t say how much of a role it played, but I think it’s undeniable it played a role.”
Governor Charlie Baker appointed Hayden to the DA post earlier this year, after Rachael Rollins was appointed US attorney for Massachusetts. Hayden previously served as the chairman of the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board, a stint that Arroyo took aim at earlier in the campaign, criticizing Hayden over a 2017 audit of the board.
That review found that the board did not have current addresses for 1,769 offenders who were in violation of reporting requirements and that the agency failed to properly categorize 936 convicted sex offenders in their system.
Hayden’s campaign countered that the board lacked the authority and resources to track down the individuals who failed to register as sex offenders and depended on law enforcement to accomplish this task.
A super PAC aligned with Baker, a Republican, spent heavily in recent days to help bolster Hayden’s election bid.
The Massachusetts Majority Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee reported spending more than $92,550 since last week on mailers and digital advertising supporting Hayden, accounting for more than half of the $164,000 it’s spent on all candidates this primary, according to state campaign finance records.
The super PAC has a history of backing both Republicans and more moderate Democrats. It’s led by a Baker donor and has tapped the Republican’s campaign staff for consulting work in the past. It also has far more money to spend. It’s reported raising nearly $1 million this year alone.
Arroyo’s campaign, meanwhile, spent the run-up to primary day under siege. The sex assault allegations prompted an exodus of big name Massachusetts progressives who rescinded their endorsement of Arroyo in the immediate run-up to the primary, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, former acting Boston mayor Kim Janey, and Representative Ayanna Pressley, among others.
Last week, Arroyo claimed vindication when he obtained emergency release of redacted investigative files in the 2005 case. Those files showed that a Boston police detective in 2006 found that sexual assault allegations made against Arroyo in the case were “unfounded.” However, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk DA’s office said in a Friday statement, “Nothing in the file questions the validity of the victim’s statements.”
As the night dragged on, the mood at Arroyo’s camp at the South End’s Doña Habana restaurant tipped from excited conversation to anxious concern, as supporters regularly checked their phones and Hayden pulled ahead.
“This is bad,” said Stacey Borden, 60, of what she was seeing on Twitter. Borden, runs a Roxbury nonprofit that provides counseling and reentry services to formerly incarcerated women, said Arroyo was the better successor to Rollins’s progressive legacy, and the candidate with much more community-led support.
“We need someone who understands,” added Borden, who was herself formerly incarcerated and who canvassed for Arroyo leading up to election night. “He deserves to win.”
Earlier Tuesday, outside the Bowditch School building in Jamaica Plain, several voters said the race for Suffolk district attorney presented an especially agonizing decision, with both candidates mired in controversy.
“It was an awkward and unsatisfying choice,” said 69-year-old Joe Orfant, a consultant and former state and city conservation official who has lived in Jamaica Plain for 34 years. “But I voted for Arroyo — the allegations against him felt a little like the guy was being railroaded, and I thought the way Hayden handled it most recently was kind of cheesy.”
Voter Marsha Burley, a resident of Jamaica Plain since 1969, also did extensive research on the scandals surrounding both candidates in the district attorney race.
However, she came to the opposite conclusion, saying that some of the allegations against Arroyo appeared true whether or not his actions were criminal, whereas Hayden still has a chance to redeem himself in the handling of the Transit Police case.
“I voted for Hayden because he has a lot more experience and because the [Transit Police] case that was raised is still open,” Burley said. “And you can’t ignore the charges against Arroyo. One woman was very emphatic that it happened, and just because the police reports say it was ‘unfounded’ doesn’t mean it didn’t occur.”
“I’m sorry that there ended up being this kind of messiness,” she added, “but politics is a messy game.”
Deanna Pan, Elizabeth Koh, Dan Adams, and Matt Stout of Globe staff and Globe correspondents Katie Mogg and Alexander Thompson contributed to this report.