Governor Deval Patrick recently named Marian Ryan to be the new Middlesex District Attorney. Ryan, a prosecutor for more than thirty years in the Middlesex DA’s office, will serve the balance of the four year term to which Gerry Leone was elected in 2010. Leone resigned last month to go into private practice. Ryan, a Belmont Democrat who has never before sought elective office, has indicated that she will run for a full term as DA in the 2014 state election.
While no other candidates have announced for the office, it will likely be a contested race. The Middlesex DA’s office has launched the statewide political careers of Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly and Martha Coakley so it is an office that draws much attention from aspiring politicians. Despite Ryan’s lack of political experience, she could be a formidable candidate next fall, especially if she uses her time in office going forward to raise her profile around the county. In some ways, the 2014 race could resemble the 1998 contest in which career prosecutor Martha Coakley won the Democratic primary with 80,603 votes to Michael Sullivan’s 46,195 and Tim Flaherty’s 41,254 (Coakley defeated Republican Lee Johnson in that year’s general election by a margin of nearly 3 to 1).
To extend the 1998 comparison even further, Coakley greatly benefited that year from having just prosecuted the case of Louise Woodward, the nanny from England who was accused of causing the death of an infant in her care. The case was televised live on CNN everyday for weeks and Coakley became a nationally recognized figure (the case also raised the profile of her co-prosecutor, Gerry Leone). While Ryan may not be handling any high profile cases herself in the coming year, her office might end up trying Boston Marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the murder in Cambridge of MIT police officer Sean Collier although it’s quite likely that Tsarnaev won’t make it beyond the murder-by-bombing charges in US District Court that will be tried first.
While the Middlesex DA’s office has launched political careers, it’s last three occupants – Tom Reilly, Martha Coakley and Gerry Leone – all were full time, career prosecutors first and politicians second. Marian Ryan fits that template so her prospects in the 2014 election should not be underestimated.