Seeking a second term at the same time that he is fighting assault and kidnapping charges, state Rep. Carlos Henriquez says he’s not shying away from addressing the case on the campaign trail. “I’m not going to allow it to be the elephant in the room,” Henriquez said in an interview with the Reporter.
A Democrat who represents parts of Dorchester and Roxbury, Henriquez has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting and kidnapping a 23-year-old student in the early morning hours of a Sunday in July. He has declined to detail what happened, citing his lawyer’s advice.
While he faces nominal opposition from a perennial candidate, Henriquez is in an awkward position as he campaigns for another two-year term. “Again, I can’t go into detail, but I’ll address it,” he said in a sit-down last week at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Community Center in Uphams Corner. “It’s the first thing I want to get out of the way, so people know that I will face it head on.”
With lawmakers finished with formal sessions for the rest of the year, Henriquez is holding community meetings, with one slated for 6 p.m. tonight (Aug. 9) at the Dorchester House. He said he has continued to meet with constituents, pointing to a recent meeting with members of Dorchester Bay Youth Force, a group of young community activists where he said, “Look, I’m not guilty of the things I’m charged of. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what happened that night.” Henriquez said he used that “as a segue to talk about how they can be smart in terms of their decisions, not leaving themselves vulnerable to false allegations or choosing who they associate with, and things like that.”
The alleged victim, who met Henriquez while she was writing a college essay on habitual offender legislation, has maintained that her charges are true. “I have told the truth about this incident and will continue to do so,” she said at a July press conference, after Henriquez put out a lengthy statement saying he is innocent of the charges.
The charges and the case have to play out in the courtroom, Henriquez said. “If I could sit down with every person that had a question about it, walk them through the events of that night, I absolutely would,” he added. “They are very serious charges and I have to make sure I’m doing the best to make sure I can maintain my innocence and prove my innocence. And if that means being quiet for now, then I’ll be quiet for now, and when the truth comes out, people will get to hear the full story and the honest facts about the event.”
Local Democratic activists have said they’re frustrated that Henriquez put himself in such a position, and they recently held an informal meeting at a ward committee co-chair’s home days after the incident to discuss the matter.
Henriquez said he feels the same way. “I’ve been frustrated and disappointed that this is even an issue that I have to deal with,” he said. “So I’ve been telling [them] the same thing. I give them that and I understand why they’re frustrated and disappointed. But at the same time, I told them and showed them that the work has continued and we haven’t missed a beat. We’ve been at the same amount of meetings, we’ve been at the same amount of community events.”
And while there have been some rumbles about a write-in campaign, calls for his resignation within the Fifth Suffolk District that he represents have not materialized. “Not from the district,” Henriquez said. “Of course you know if you follow me on Twitter, you can see some of the negative comments, that you’ll see, whether they’re Republican or very conservative. Mostly people who have never met me, never taken the time to shake my hand or understand my work or possibly don’t believe in letting the justice system play out. But no, nothing like that from the district.”
Asked if the thought of resigning has crossed his mind after the allegations, Henriquez said it had not. “You know, if I felt like I had something to hide, if I felt I did something wrong, then I would strongly consider that,” he said. “But being innocent of all the allegations, I couldn’t consider that. It would be wrong for me personally, it would wrong for my family, it would be wrong for the district, it would be wrong for those I represent to turn and run away from something like that instead of standing up for the truth.”
Althea Garrison, a former state representative who frequently runs for public office, is on the ballot in November as an independent. Garrison has so far avoided slamming Henriquez over the court case, but she taken out newspaper ads calling him “unqualified” and arguing he is “not getting the job done because he doesn’t know how to get the job done.”
Henriquez, who has faced off against Garrison before, says she has “her free speech rights” and that he is “up for any debate or candidates forum.”
Asked about her criticisms, he said, “I’m not sure where that comes from. I feel like it’s throwing things to the wall and seeing what sticks.” When candidates take out negative ads, “it’s because they don’t have a position to stand on themselves,” he said. “So it’s easier to be negative and distract people from the real issues of the district. If she was critiquing my stance on the habitual offender bill or said I haven’t done enough to work with community organizations, or if she said I’m not sensitive to the fact that they’re trying to open another methadone clinic in Newmarket, if she was talking about those issues I could understand and we could have a debate about it. But just kind of baseless critiques almost don’t deserve a response or acknowledgement.”
Garrison appeared at a community meeting Henriquez held last week and the two sparred over several neighborhood issues, but the topic of his arrest did not come up.
During the interview in the lobby of the Kroc Center, Henriquez was frequently approached by local residents who shook his hand or offered a cheery greeting. The half-hour sit-down also touched on the last-minute flurry of bills lawmakers hustled to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.
Henriquez recounted the back-and-forth the Black and Latino Caucus had internally over the habitual offender bill, which caucus members opposed because they said it disproportionately affected communities of color.
The caucus had “tense” conversations about what people would be happy with in the final bill, Henriquez said. Some lawmakers don’t believe in voting for a bill that includes mandatory minimums and others weren’t happy that the bill included lightened sentences for drug offenses, he said. “While we were happy to get the changes that were beneficial, to make it a better bill and more balanced, we still weren’t happy with the complete bill, which is why many of us still voted no on it,” he added.
The governor ended up signing the bill, saying it was “balanced,” an attribute Patrick requested earlier this year.
“I think what he did that I really like is he asked for a commitment to continue this conversation” about reforming mandatory minimum sentences, Henriquez said. “And that is something I got to speak to him personally about, that the caucus got to speak to him personally about, whether we would continue this conversation into next session.”
Follow Gin Dumcius on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd.