Attorney general candidate Andrea Campbell says that not just her professional background but her lived experience makes her the perfect person to take on the job of Massachusetts’ top legal officer.
The former Boston City Council president grew up in a family that relied on public housing and food assistance and occasionally spent time in foster care. Multiple family members went in and out of incarceration.
“That lived experience is quite unique because it connects to the daily struggle that residents are dealing with,” Campbell said in a conversation with The Sun editorial board Wednesday. “At this moment in time when folks are talking about representation mattering, they want to actually see some folks in office that connect to their lived experience. … The next AG is going to have to not only pull more folks into the fold to be a part of the work, but to put forth a comprehensive vision to accomplish, and that’s going to require not only a legal background but also legislative experience.”
Campbell grew up in Roxbury, graduated from Boston Latin School and worked her way through college and a law degree. She began her career in legal services for students, especially those with disabilities, and also worked as general counsel for the Metropolitan Area Planning Counsel and then-Gov. Deval Patrick.
She was first elected to the Boston City Council in 2015, and three years later she became the first Black woman to be president of the city’s governing body, a role she held until 2020. Last year, she ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Boston, coming in third in the preliminary election to fellow councilors Anissa Essaibi-George and eventual winner Michelle Wu.
Campbell said she decided to run for attorney general because she feels the office has the resources to directly aid Massachusetts residents in need, taking a “holistic” approach and looking at how different struggles play off one another.
“I think families are going to need a whole host of things coming out of COVID to be able to thrive and prosper and for many actually to be able to rebound in order to be successful going forward,” she said. “So pushing this holistic approach to how this office can help the family, particularly with a sense of urgency and through an intersectional lens.”
One issue the candidate said she hopes to work on is criminal justice and police reform. During her time on the Boston City Council, she helped implement police-worn body cameras and an Office of Police Accountability and chaired the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice.
She said these measures and others can and should be implemented in municipalities across the state to help address issues such as racial profiling.
“Police misconduct is real, including in this state,” she said. “Whether that is misuse of taxpayer dollars, overtime scandals or folks calling their local electeds or the AG’s office about some unfortunate incident they had with a police officer. Those calls come from folks of every demographic you can imagine. … All of these issues should tell everyone that something needs to be done in this space.”
In addition, Campbell said the criminal justice issues she sees go beyond just the actions of individual police officers, but the entire system. She used her own family experience as an example, telling the story of her twin brother, Andre, who died in Department of Correction custody during pre-trial detention nearly 10 years ago.
“The majority of folks we incarcerate in this state are residents of color and poor residents and there are definitely racial disparities that still exist in that system,” she said. “How do we ensure that we are breaking those cycles of incarceration and making sure that folks have access to good housing, good jobs and a good education, frankly all the things that I had to break the cycle of trauma and criminalization.”
Another major issue Campbell said is facing Massachusetts is wage theft. She explained that wage theft takes many forms, whether employees are docked pay for mistakes, don’t receive overtime or simply never get a paycheck. It also disproportionately affects immigrant communities, who can be afraid to report an issue for fear of being deported.
While a bill is currently working its way through Beacon Hill to help with the problem, Campbell said more needs to be done to address it. She hopes to use the attorney general’s office to press for more legislation to protect workers and simply raise awareness.
“We have to name (the problem). Wage theft is a significant problem in this state and people are going to work, working hard and not getting paid,” she said. “Most folks don’t necessarily know that the AG’s office can be a resource for that type of case, and given the magnitude of it, it has to be a priority.”
Beyond wage theft, Campbell said she wants to strengthen other worker protections, especially safety regulations. She noted a fatal accident that occurred on a construction site at a parking garage in Boston on Saturday where a worker fell nine stories along with some heavy machinery.
During her time on the City Council, Campbell and other councilors passed legislation requiring construction companies to file paperwork with the city stating that they had had no safety violations. Despite this, she said she has seen and heard of companies lying to get around the rules, and hopes to use the powers of the attorney general to go after those “bad actors.”
Other issues Campbell cited as priorities were creating housing, making health care accessible and addressing climate change and environmental injustice.
“It’s important to listen to constituents because the folks who are very much living the issues also have the solutions,” she said. “The family, whether that’s a family of one or a family of 25, is grappling with all those things and maybe even more. So how does government in a more creative way help the family respond to all those issues?”