Analysis | Of Rollins, Arroyo, and District 5 voters


Councillor Ricardo Arroyo spoke at the Aug. 31 City Council meeting as his father, Felix D. Arroyo, the register of probate, looked on from the audience. (Screenshot)

When City Councillor Ricardo Arroyo ran for the Suffolk district attorney seat last fall, he and his supporters decried what they called “illegal leaks” to the media that delved into sexual assault allegations against him from some 20 years before. Arroyo pointed to his opponent, interim DA Kevin Hayden, and his supporters, as the leakers.

Eight months after losing that election, and four months before he will face voters anew for reelection to the District 5 seat he has held since 2020, Arroyo and that race are back in the headlines.

Two federal probes of Rachael Rollins, who gave up her Suffolk DA post in 2022 and accepted President Biden’s nomination of her as US attorney for Massachusetts, found that she had secretly supported Arroyo against Hayden and sought to plant unfavorable stories about Hayden through leaks to the Boston Globe and Boston Herald.

Arroyo and Rollins exchanged hundreds of text messages that the investigators cited in their conclusions that Rollins, who resigned from the federal post last week, had acted unethically. The reports covered other matters, too: Rollins seeking to obtain a large number of Boston Celtics game tickets at no cost and her insisting on attending an Andover fundraiser with First Lady Jill Biden in the face of her advisers’ cautions that she was violating Justice Department guidelines in so doing.

But the Arroyo-Rollins connection was the biggest mortar shell to strike Boston’s political landscape.

After the reports put text messages into the public domain, Arroyo told reporters that there were “illegal leaks from different directions” in the ’22 DA’s race. While he said he agreed with the reports’ conclusions that Rollins had acted unethically, he pointed out that they didn’t allege any wrongdoing on his part. In dismissing calls from at-large colleague Erin Murphy and a conservative watchdog group for him to resign, he further claimed that neither report showed him asking Rollins “to do the things she did.”

But the reports did include a text exchange between Arroyo and Rollins on Aug. 22, 2022, a day before the Globe published its story about two investigations into Arroyo’s possible sexual assaults from an earlier time. He was never charged and has repeatedly denied those allegations.

The other bombshell story that dominated the race was a Globe story weeks earlier on Hayden, and his office’s potentially mishandling of a Transit Police misconduct case.

In a text, Arroyo asked Rollins, “Are y’all announcing an investigation” into Hayden? “Would be the best thing I can have happen at this moment,” he added. Referring to Globe reporters questioning him about the assault allegations, Arroyo said that he was “literally fighting a punch meant to end my career.” Rollins responded, “Understood. Keep fighting and campaigning. I’m working on something.” (According to one of the federal reports, when asked about this exchange in the probe, Rollins said her response was “innocuous,” but “it’s not a specific, ‘I’m indicting somebody.’”)

The next day, Rollins helped Arroyo with a statement in response to the Globe story. Arroyo, who didn’t have to give up his District 5 seat for his DA run, went on to lose the race to Hayden, who won Boston, Revere, and Winthrop while Arroyo took Chelsea.

Arroyo, a Hyde Park resident, is expected back on the ballot in the September preliminary in a bid to keep his Hyde Park and Mattapan seat. He’s facing two opponents in Jose Ruiz, a Boston Police officer who lives in Hyde Park, and Jean-Claude Sanon, a Mattapan resident who has run for the office before.

Ruiz, whose mother co-founded the affordable housing development in the South End called Villa Victoria, said he plans to formally kick off his campaign “soon.” He has hired Cam Charbonnier, a consultant who worked on Hayden’s DA campaign, to help in the District 5 race.

“The voters want a city councillor focused on delivering for them, not one distracted by constant scandals,” Ruiz said in a statement.

When asked if Arroyo should resign, his two opponents defer to Arroyo and the voters, somewhat echoing what Mayor Wu told reporters in the days after the release of the Rollins reports: “For elected officials, our No. 1 source of accountability is being on the ballot.”

Said Ruiz: “The residents [in District 5] I have been speaking with have made it clear they want new leadership; whether that happens immediately or after the election in November is up to Councillor Arroyo."

Sanon also said it is either up to Arroyo or the voters. When asked about Arroyo’s appearances in the Rollins reports, Sanon said, “I am not here to knock a man down when he is already on his knees. I’ll leave it to the people when it comes to election time.”

Arroyo said on Monday that during his time on the council, he has sought to raise issues of racial, environmental, and economic equity while also responding to constituent requests. “I look forward to both of them engaging with voters and recognizing the deep impact of that work,” he said of his opponents and his record.

Arroyo has garnered at least one endorsement amid the turmoil over the last year: State Rep. Russell Holmes, who represents Mattapan and lives in Arroyo’s district. He said he believed what Rollins did was unethical. “She is the law. Do I think the law should go break the law? No, I do not.”

But regarding the text messages exchanged between Rollins and Arroyo, Holmes added that “as a person who has been a part of a campaign, there’s a lot of bantering and strategy that goes back and forth.”

He said he dislikes when politicians call on other politicians to resign, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, and criticized those calling on New York Congressman George Santos, who falsified his biography and is accused of fraud, to leave the US House.

“Let the voters decide,” Holmes said of Arroyo and District 5. “We’re in the middle of an election year.”

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