Among the jobs in public service, district attorney is one of the most relevant and impactful.
The DA and his staff typically help citizens at their most vulnerable – after they or a family member have been victimized by crime.
How those people are treated goes a long way toward restoring their self-confidence, as well as their faith in government and the justice system.
Perhaps the most coveted DA’s job in Massachusetts is in Middlesex County, the most populous in the state and covering a broad swath of territory that includes such diverse communities as Cambridge and Lowell.
Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly, and Martha Coakley all transitioned from Middlesex DA to state attorney general, before Harshbarger and Reilly ran for governor, and Coakley took a shot at the US Senate.
All that explains why it was a shock to the political system Thursday night when the current Middlesex district attorney, Gerard Leone, announced to his staff that he would not seek reelection in 2014.
After two terms in office, with no challenger the last time he ran and none on the horizon, the Hopkinton Democrat decided to walk away from public service on his own terms. During his career, he had personally prosecuted some of the most memorable cases in the state, including those of attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid and nanny Louise Woodward.
That he told his staff at an awards and recognition ceremony for them told the public something about Leone’s humble personality, as well as his commitment to the people who have worked for him.
“Like my predecessors, I, too, will not run for reelection to a third term as Middlesex district attorney in 2014,’’ Leone told his staff. “However, unlike my predecessor Middlesex district attorneys, I am not running for another elective office, and, in fact, I intend to leave government service when I leave this office. I do not now know what I will do when I leave. But, I do know that anyone who is interested in competing to succeed me needs time to compete. I want that field of potential successors to be as rich and deep as the job deserves. And, therefore, I am expressing my intentions publicly now.’’
He went on to say that “this job was the only elected office that I wanted,’’ and that he “endured’’ the elective process to hold it.
The district attorney added: “This Middlesex district attorney’s office is about the collective whole of all of us, made up of outstanding individuals who protect and serve the public with commitment, dedication, and passion. It is an outstanding legacy that we all share in, and it does not depend upon, nor evolve around, any one person. Just continue to do your jobs as well as you are now, and let’s continue to work together on behalf of others.’’
Then, in deeply personal aside, he closed his remarks to the staff.
“As someone who is much smarter than I am once said, ‘I must be willing to give up what I am, in order to become what I will be,’’’ Leone said. “Other than a husband and father, I am not yet sure what that will be when I am no longer a district attorney.’’
In mid-September, the Globe contacted Leone amid chatter that he might be under consideration for athletic director at Pennsylvania State University. Given his law-and-order reputation, work prosecuting child sexual abuse cases, and background as a Harvard football player and son of a former football coach, Leone seemingly had the credentials to help the school rebound from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Leone said he had not been contacted about the post, but he also didn’t shy away from discussing why he would be an appropriate choice for it.
“I’ve been in and around athletics, sports, and, particularly, football for a long time. I think if you combined that with my professional and personal skills, I don’t think there’s any reason I couldn’t run a large-scale athletic department,’’ the DA said.
There were signs at that time that Leone was nearing the end of his tenure in political office. Chief among them was that his fund-raising had dropped off.
A report covering the period through Aug. 31 showed he had $86,000 cash on hand. At the same point during his last reelection cycle, he had $191,000. Yet Leone explained that he still had over $500,000 when adding in interest-bearing CDs and a money market account.
“I’d rather spend my time working the job I enjoy than raising money,’’ he said during that interview. “At the same time, I have supporters and commitments that would put me well over $1 million if I needed the money.’’
Nonetheless, Leone also suggested another campaign was no sure bet.
“I’m not going to be district attorney for life,’’ he said, “so, at some point, I have to think about doing other things.’’
Now he will have the clear conscience to do so.