Henriquez arrest takes toll on state of black politics
State Representative Carlos Henriquez is considered by many as one of a new and highly capable generation of African American and Latino leaders to emerge in Boston in recent years. So, when the Dorchester-based politician was arrested Sunday on charges of domestic battery and kidnapping, it resonated as stunning news.
According to published reports, Northeastern University campus police responded to a call at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning. A woman in her 20s accused Henriquez of punching and strangling her. She also reported that Henriquez held her against her will for two hours in a rented car he was driving. How deeply the arrest will impact Henriquez’s re-election later this fall is still unknown. The full facts of the incident have yet to be disclosed.
But many community leaders concur that if he is cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, he will likely prevail in the upcoming reelection contest for the fifth Suffolk District, neighborhoods that include a large swath of Dorchester and a portion of Roxbury. He faces no primary challengers in September. In the November final election he faces former State Representative Althea Garrison, a perennial candidate who once held the seat in the 1990s.
In 2010, Henriquez entered the legislature after besting Dorchester resident Barry Lawton in an open-seat election after former State Representative Marie St. Fleur resigned from office. The race between Lawton and Henriquez was decided by less than 40 votes after a contentious campaign.
St. Fleur threw her support behind Henriquez, as did other prominent neighborhood organizations and political associations. Lawton refused to push for a recount.
The seat is the Commonwealth’s most diverse state house district, comprised of Latinos, African Americans, white residents and the state’s most dense urban Cape Verdean community.
At his arraignment on Monday at the Roxbury District Court, Henriquez appeared composed, staring ahead, his hands clasped in front of him, while a dozen friends and family gathered as a show of support.
Notable community leaders at the courthouse included Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Executive Director John Barros, Urban League President Darnell Williams and Attorney Hassan Williams.
Stephanie Soriano-Mills, who is highly regarded in legal circles, and is the daughter-in-law of former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, represented Henriquez. Henriquez was released on $1,000 cash bond, facing a phalanx of television news cameras and local reporters upon leaving the courthouse.
Twenty-four hours after his arrest, Henriquez was the subject of more than 55 news stories across the Internet, including reports on websites in California and Great Britain. In a statement released after the court appearance, Henriquez pressed that he was innocent of the claims against him.
“I have been accused of some serious charges; these allegations are completely untrue,” he stated in the release.
Some supporters at the court complained openly about the news circus enveloped around the Henriquez arrest. They contend that the media immediately maligned Henriquez by using the legislator’s police arrest photo in their reporting rather than his state house portrait, which is readily available on the Internet.
Judge Kenneth Fianduca ordered Henriquez to stay away from the alleged victim’s residences in Somerville and Arlington and from UMass Boston, where the alleged victim attends classes.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Robert De Leo said the arrest would be taken “very seriously,” suggesting that Henriquez may be stripped of his legislative committee assignments.
A scion of a local political family, Henriquez is the son of the late Julio Henriquez who served in Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn’s administration as the director of an anti-gang program.
Sandra Henriquez, an undersecretary of housing for president Obama, is his mother. While not well-known to voters outside his district, Henriquez has been considered a rising star among Beacon Hill observers and lawmakers. He has been praised for quickly learning the rules of the body and coming under the tutelage of respected inside party players.
Henriquez’s troubles come at a time when the city’s black and Latino community is slowly healing from a series of deeply inflicted wounds to its political infrastructure in recent years.
Last year, State Senator Dianne Wilkerson and Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner — two of the city’s most recognized elected officials — were sent to federal prison on anti-corruption charges.
Many at the courthouse supporting Henriquez conceded that the charges against him would temporarily alter the trajectory of what was considered the beginning of an auspicious political career.
But, most of them lamented over the exorbitant cost that will be exacted to breach the collateral political damage brought on by the arrest.
Fatigued by recent political scandal and ridicule, voters as well as black and Latino leaders face the Herculean task of repairing the reputation and capacity of so-called minority communities.