Please, Rep. Henriquez, do the right thing

Longfellow Street is in the Fifth Suffolk House District of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (or the General Court, as they say on Beacon Hill). Currently our representative is Carlos Henriquez. He has recently been sentenced to serve six months of a two-and-a half-year sentence in the Middlesex Jail for assault and battery. This is a black eye for Dorchester where, despite our great history, we sometimes feel that if we didn’t have bad luck, we would have no luck at all. I plead with Rep. Henriquez to resign his seat.

First, some background: Last Friday, the Ward 15 Democratic Party Committee sent a letter to the speaker of the House, Robert A. DeLeo, to add a community voice to the turmoil surrounding Henriquez’s status. The letter cited the need for the Fifth Suffolk, which includes the Uphams Triangle (streets on the border of Roxbury and north Dorchester), Uphams Corner proper, over to Blue Hill Avenue, Meeting House Hill, and one side of Fields Corner, and its 40,000 residents to have a voice in the House. The state budget provides support to the Bowdoin Street Health Center, the Uphams Corner Health Center, Dot House, the Strand Theatre, and countless services to the elderly, families, and children in the Fifth Suffolk.

The letter also called on the speaker to “do everything in your power to allow for a special election.” DeLeo, Gov. Patrick, and Mayor Walsh have called for Mr. Henriquez to resign and the speaker has authorized the House Ethics Committee to conduct an investigation and report on the need (or not) to expel Henriquez. If he were to be expelled in a timely manner, a special election would be scheduled and the Fifth Suffolk would continue to have a voice in the House through the current term, which ends next January.

How likely to succeed is this route to a special election? Probably close to hopeless. We live in a culture and by a legal system where a basic principle is that we are all “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s true that Henriquez was found guilty and sentenced in Middlesex Court; however, he is appealing that decision, according to his lawyer. After he was arraigned, it took two years for the case to come to trial. How long will an appeals process take – months? During that time, Henriquez will continue to have a livelihood paid for by the Commonwealth, and money to pay his lawyer. He is not going to give that up. And during the appeals process, that basic principle hangs in the air.

How likely is the House to vote for expulsion before the appeals court rules? How many of the legislators remember the case of Chuck Turner: He was found guilty, and the City Council then voted to expel him before he was sentenced, an action that was later overturned by the court, resulting in a city payment to Turner. My conclusion is that, while Henriquez’s legal appeal continues, there is, despite good intentions, probably no one who can force the representative to resign, so a timely special election is not going to happen.

This is where my plea comes in. Carlos, I beg you to resign for the sake of our neighbors and friends in the district. I do not make this plea out of personal animus. You know that I worked for your first campaign and the Ward 15 Democratic Party Committee endorsed you at that time. You must know that, while defending yourself, whether incarcerated, out on bail, out with an ankle bracelet, innocent or guilty, there is no way that you can effectively represent the people of the Fifth Suffolk District. Your staff will be unable to perform effectively without your leadership. We cannot expect other members of the House to watch out for our needs: they have a job to watch out for the needs of their districts. It is time to show yourself as a man with honor, who can think beyond his own dire needs, who, as a 37-year-old adult, can do the right thing. Only you can let us get on with building our neighborhoods, providing for the children, the elderly, and the poor who are our neighbors. You took an oath to serve the people of the Commonwealth and the Fifth Suffolk. It is time for you to admit that the only way you can keep that oath in these unusual circumstances is to step down immediately.

Ed Cook is a resident of Longfellow Street in Dorchester.