Answers past due for Perry
The tight race to succeed retiring Bill Delahunt in the 10th Congressional District has become all about Jeff Perry, and he has no one to blame but himself.
The state representative from East Sandwich has seen his once-confident campaign threatened by one dark episode that has resisted his efforts to explain it away.
Most voters know by now that a 14-year-old Wareham girl was strip-searched by a police officer under Perry’s command in 1991, when Perry was a Wareham police officer. The victim came forward last week to denounce Perry in a public statement, saying Perry was nearby and, “He had to hear me screaming and crying. Instead of helping me, Jeff Perry denied that anything happened.’’
Perry released a statement that essentially blamed Scott Flanagan, the officer who was later sent to jail for civil rights and indecent assault based on what happened that night. Perry did not address his own role.
Some of Perry’s supporters have accused Perry’s opponent, Norfolk District Attorney William Keating, of running a negative campaign.
This has indeed been a negative campaign, in the sense that it has come to be dominated by personal attacks rather than issues. But whose fault is that? This event — and Perry’s clearly contradictory explanations of his role — would be central in any campaign.
Perry has variously stated that he saw and heard nothing at the strip search, and that he wasn’t present. Perry actually figured in two strip-search cases in 1991 and again in 1992 — both conducted by Flanagan. Perry, on his bar application, said that the victim in the second case was arrested. That wasn’t true either.
Perry now blames that misstatement on a faulty memory. The second victim won a civil suit against the town of Wareham, while Allen’s family settled out of court.
All indications from the start were that this is a winnable race for Perry, and polls now suggest it is a dead heat. The 10th is easily the most conservative district in Massachusetts. Scott Brown carried it by a landslide, and Perry began the campaign far better-known to its voters than Keating, who represents only a sliver of it, and who rented a house in Quincy to run.
Perhaps only in this odd political environment could Perry fail to be derailed by the strip search case. Early in the campaign he glibly asserted that these cases had been publicly aired in his first run for state representative.
He has become the latest in a long line of candidates who have discovered that with higher office comes far greater scrutiny. He has hardly covered himself in glory in handling that scrutiny. His steadily evolving, and unconvincing, statements reflect that. Certainly the assault of teenage girl deserve a more thoughtful explanation than Perry has been able to muster so far. Some things simply cannot be spun.
Keating has not been shy about criticizing Perry’s character. “I think voters expect a certain fundamental level of trust in the person they select,’’ he said yesterday. “I have enormous faith in voters to make that final call. They are very good and seeing through the weeds and getting to the core of things.’’
The establishment Republicans who embraced Perry have not run away from him, but they do seem to be feeling a bit of buyers’ remorse.
In his appearance with Perry this weekend, Charlie Baker reportedly kept his interaction with the congressional candidate to a bare minimum.
As well he might.
Until Jeff Perry explains why he allowed a 14-year-old girl to be sexually assaulted on his watch, he’s going to be a bad person to be associated with. “Negative’’ would be a very mild word for it.
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.