‘Personal for me’: The unlikely path of Mass.’s next Attorney General

In the midst of a national debate over policing and criminal justice reform, Andrea Campbell has a more personal perspective than most.
Boston City Councilor and candidate for state attorney general Andrea Campbell speaks during the state’s Democratic party convention, Saturday, June 4, 2022, in Worcester, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

In the midst of a national debate over policing and criminal justice reform, Andrea Campbell has a more personal perspective than most.

Campbell is likely to become the first Black woman to serve as Massachusetts Attorney General. Polls show she leads attorney Jay McMahon (R) by wide margins in a state where Democrats have held the office since 1969.

But her path to high office does not follow that of her predecessors, most of whom won election after long legal careers and well-heeled upbringings. 

Campbell, 40, spent much of her childhood in foster care and with biological relatives. Her mother was killed in a car accident before Campbell’s first birthday; she was driving to visit Campbell’s father, who was in prison.

At 29, Campbell’s twin brother, Andre, died in state custody while awaiting trial, the victim of an autoimmune illness that worsened while he was in jail. Campbell’s older brother, Alvin, is currently in custody, indicted on serial rape and kidnapping charges after allegedly posing as a ride share driver to target women near Boston bars.

Campbell, who won three terms on the Boston city council before running for state office, has used her family’s hardships to connect with voters.

“As I crisscross the state and listen to residents share their own story, there are deep connections,” she said. “I talk about growing up poor in public housing. I talk, of course, about the criminality of my father and my brothers and breaking those cycles of poverty and trauma and incarceration.” 

The divergent paths Andrea and Andre Campbell took illustrate what she said were opportunities she received that her brother did not. In elementary school, she and Andre were separated to help them grow as individuals. While she excelled, he was flagged as having behavioral problems. 

“I attended schools that were much more well-resourced, that had higher standards of excellence and accountability for teachers and staff and the principals that had a lot of free programming within those schools, whereas Andre attended schools that had less resources,” she said.

Campbell graduated from Boston Latin School, one of the city’s elite public schools. She earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton before getting a law degree at UCLA. Back home, she worked as then-Gov. Deval Patrick’s (D) deputy legal counsel. In 2015, she ousted a 32-year incumbent to win a seat on the city council.

Last year, Campbell finished third in her bid to become Boston’s mayor, coming about 3,000 votes short of making the runoff election. This year, Campbell won backing from Attorney General Maura Healey (D), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and four of Massachusetts’s members of Congress. She beat out labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan in the Democratic primary.

Now, as she seeks to become the top legal official in Massachusetts, Campbell says she would push public safety agencies to be both properly funded and accountable for those in their custody.

“I live in a section of the city of Boston, one of the poorest parts, that still sees a lot of violence,” she said. “I think there’s a lot the Office of Attorney General can do to address community violence, to break these cycles that exist in communities all across the Commonwealth.” 

Nationally, Republicans have accused Democrats of defunding police and taking a lax approach to incarceration that has led to an increase in violent crime. Campbell said she views the Attorney General’s office through a broader lens.

“This work of being a public servant has always been about breaking cycles of violence, poverty, trauma, criminalization, mediocrity, so that the next generation does better than the last,” she said. “That is personal for me on a deep level.” 

Campbell supports ending qualified immunity for police officers and reforming bail rules so low-income people are not held in custody longer than necessary. She also wants to use the Attorney General’s office to address racial biases in appraised home values, “which is becoming a national conversation,” she said.

“I want to make sure that the opportunities I was afforded here in Massachusetts, that residents regardless of where they live in Massachusetts, where they come from, what their demographic is, that they have access to those same opportunities – and we still have significant work to make that happen, especially in communities of color, in immigrant communities and our poor rural communities,” she said. “An attorney general can make sure that economic prosperity and opportunity reach everyone equitably and fairly, and I’m excited to do that.” 

Steven Porter, a journalist based in New Hampshire, is the founding editor of Granite Memo.