There’s a very dangerous game being played in the campaign for Massachusetts’s 10th District congressional seat (from which Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring). And the results could have implications for candidates for higher office as female voters assess GOP candidates’ reactions to the handling of a sexual assault case in the 1990s.
The GOP nominee, Jeff Perry, is under attack for his behavior in the police force back in 1991, when another police officer under Perry’s command illegally strip-searched and sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl. According to a state police investigation of the incident, Perry was 15 feet away from the site of the assault. A year later, the other officer later did the same to a 16-year-old girl, and was jailed for his crimes. Perry resigned from the force soon after the other cop was indicted, but said it was for unrelated reasons.
Under renewed scrutiny during his campaign, Perry told the Boston Globe earlier this year that the assault “did not occur in my presence,” despite his sworn testimony in a civil court case that he had, indeed, been on the scene. Even that discrepancy did not prevent the Tea Party movement-backed Perry from winning the GOP nomination, and indeed, his supporters maintain that Perry should not be judged for something that happened so long ago. The Democratic nominee, Bill Keating, tried to make an issue of it, but seemed to get little political traction, and it appeared that Keating--not a terribly strong candidate to begin with--could lose the seat and hand Republicans a high-profile victory in blue Massachusetts.
That changed earlier this week, when the first victim, Lisa Allen, released an emotional statement to the Globe, saying Perry had done nothing to stop the assault on her:
I cannot stand by silently any longer while what happened to me is discussed in the press. It upsets me that Jeff Perry can run for Congress after what he did to me when I was fourteen years old. He had to hear me screaming and crying. Instead of helping me, Jeff Perry denied anything happened.
Keating’s attacks were easier to dismiss as political mud-slinging (as Perry had accused his opponent), but Allen’s statement was impossible to discredit or ignore. Still Perry did not apologize, keeping his response to an expression of sympathy for Allen and contempt for the assaulting officer.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, however, was far more aggressive, resurrecting an old story about how Keating, as a district attorney, plea-bargained with accused rapists, resulting in reduced sentences. Plea-bargaining is a common practice among prosecutors, and is meant to secure a conviction. But the NRCC, in a startlingly indignant statement, suggests that plea-bargaining with accused rapists is far worse than a law enforcement officer standing 15 feet away while a screaming, middle school-aged girl was under sexual attack from another police officer.
As Keating continues to run a negative campaign, it’s time for him to come clean and admit that he has made a career out of letting criminals off the hook by giving them shorter sentences for their crimes. These are not the actions of a candidate who is fit to serve Massachusetts families in Congress or in any other capacity.
The statement was clearly meant to muddy the political waters by trying to put Keating and Perry in the same category. But that’s a risky strategy for the Republicans, who can’t afford to alienate female voters. Bay State GOPers Mitt Romney, Sen. Scott Brown, and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker are all standing by Perry as he navigates the most recent development in the sexual assault case. Baker already suffers from a gender gap in the excruciatingly tight governor’s race; a Suffolk University poll showed that Baker is losing female voters to Gov. Deval Patrick, 31 percent to 43 percent (with the rest going to the independent candidate, Tim Cahill). Perry is neck-and-neck with Keating, according to several polls. The best defense is, sometimes, a strong offense. But equating plea-bargaining with Perry’s behavior is just offensive.