A history of Middlesex DA’s office as Gerry Leone announces departure

Last night Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone announced that he will not seek re-election in the 2014 state election nor will he seek any other elective office. Gerry is a long-time prosecutor and has done a great job as DA so his services to the people of Middlesex County (and especially Lowell) will be missed. His departure, though, will cause an electoral scramble for that office which will have a trickle-down effect as incumbent state senators , state representatives or other current elected officials run for DA and cause the seats they now hold to become open.

The 2014 state election was already shaping up to be one of the most significant in recent state history with the governorship up for grabs, one or more Constitutional offices coming open if the current occupants join the gubernatorial race, and plenty of down-ballot openings as regional and local elected officials seeks statewide office. Add to that all Congressional seats and the US Senate seat now held by John Kerry and soon to be filled in a special election this summer plus not the Middlesex DA’s office, and we have the makings of a head-spinning level of political activity in the Commonwealth.

As for the DA’s office, the following is a brief history of past elections for that office stretching back to 1978:

Gerry Leone was first elected Middlesex DA in 2006 when he won the job without opposition in either the Democratic Primary or in the general election. Leone succeeded Martha Coakley who that year was elected Attorney General, without opposition in the Democratic Primary although she defeated Republican Larry Frisoli of Belmont in the general election. The office of Attorney General had come open when incumbent Tom Reilly (another former Middlesex DA) ran unsuccessfully for governor (he lost in the Democratic primary to Deval Patrick). Leone was re-elected without opposition in 2010 (and would have been re-elected again in 2014 had he chosen to run again).

Leone’s predecessor as Middlesex DA, Martha Coakley, had won the DA’s office in 1998. The seat became open when incumbent Tom Reilly successfully sought the office of Attorney General when incumbent Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (another former Middlesex DA) unsuccessfully sought the governorship (he lost to Paul Cellucci). In the 1998 Middlesex DA’s race, Coakley defeated Micaheal Sullivan and Tim Flaherty. Coakley received 80,603 votes to Sullivan’s 46,195 and Flaherty’s 41,254. In Lowell, the results were Sullivan 3371, Coakley 3285 and Flaherty 2194. In the general election, Coakley defeated Republican Lee Johnson, 307,209 to 126,632. (Sullivan, who went on to win the office of Middlesex County Clerk of Courts, is a former assistant DA who very well could be a candidate for DA in 2014). Coakley was re-elected Middlesex DA without opposition in 2002.

In 1990 with incumbent DA Scott Harshbarger running for Attorney General, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office was an open seat. On the Democratic side, Harshbarger’s First Assistant, Tom Reilly, defeated State Senator Joe Mackey of Sommerville, 109,835 to 79,090 and George Spartichino of Cambridge finished third with 58,121 votes. There was no Republican candidate, so Reilly was unopposed in the general election. As for the office of Attorney General, with incumbent Frank Bellotti seeking the governorship, there were contested primaries for both parties. On the Democratic side, Middlesex DA Scott Harshbarger defeated former 5th District Congressman Jim Shannon, 533,481 to 462,296. In Lowell, Harshbarger won, 7246 to 6266. On the Repulbican side, William Sawyer of Acton defeated Guy Carbone of Belmont, 199,567 to 178,669. In Lowell, it was Sawyer 2099 to Carbone 1435. In the general election, Harshbarger won, 1,442,359 to 808,398. Harshbarger took Lowell, 18,536 to 9001. In the 1994 election, Tom Reilly won re-election as Middlesex DA without opposition.

Scott Harshbarger had become the Middlesex District Attorney in 1982 when he defeated incumbent John Droney in the Democratic Primary. There were four candidates in that primary. Harshbarger won with 146,485 votes; Paul Cavanaugh of Medford received 55,559; Edward Gargiulo of Reading received 54,004 and Droney received 52,222 (longtime incumbent Droney was in ill-health and had ceded much of the operational control of the office to his first assistant, John Kerry, who won the Lieutenant Governorship in this election). In the general election, Harshbarger defeated Republican Guy Carbone, 357,797 to 125,724. In the 1986 election, incumbent DA Harshbarger was challenged in the Democratic Primary by Stephen McGrail of Wakefield although Harshbarger won handily, 138,517 to 39,758.

Harshbarger had unsuccessfully challenged Droney in 1978 with Droney narrowly holding onto the seat in the Democratic primary with 89,131votes to Harshbarger’s 82,762. Guy Carbone, running as a Democrat, received 34,625 votes. Droney was unopposed in the 1978 general election.