Carmen M. Ortiz, the first woman and the first Hispanic to be United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, has just been honored by The Boston Globe.
“She has sent an unambiguous message to the Massachusetts political class to behave, ramped up prosecutions of white-collar crime, and built a new civil rights enforcement team,” The Globe said. “For all of these reasons, she is our Bostonian of the Year.”
Ortiz, who turns 56 on Thursday, was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in November 2009. She is the opposite of naive, yet her comments to The Globe made it clear that she still retains a prosecutor’s bone-deep hatred of corruption. “It makes the public feel like ‘Wow, who can you trust? What is really genuine?’ ” she said. “It puts a stain on everything.”
Her feelings about corrupt public servants date at least to 1980, when she worked as an intern in the Department of Justice’s public integrity unit, created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandals. She worked with a young trial attorney named Eric Holder, who, of course, is now U.S. Attorney General, and with a trial attorney Reid Weingarten, who became one of Holder’s best friends.
“It was God’s work,” Weingarten, now a prominent defense lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, reminisced. “We all felt that way.”
One of her targets in Boston has been the notorious mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, captured last year after 16 years on the run. One need not be a cynic to assume that other targets will present themselves. It was Boston, after all, that gave us “The Last Hurrah,” Edwin O’Connor’s novel about an old-school political boss, just as Chicago was the birthplace of the smoke-filled room.
As The Globe recounted, Ortiz had hard-scrabble beginnings and has had her share of personal hardships, including the death of her first husband and health problems of her own. But when life throws you the worst, she said, “You cannot let that moment define you.”
Or, as close friend Sharon Hanson, chief of staff to Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis put it, “The thing I love about her is she’s not intimidated by anything.”