From left, attorney general candidate Maura Healey, Middlesex district attorney candidate Michael Sullivan, AG candidate Warren Tolman, and Cassandra
From left, attorney general candidate Maura Healey, Middlesex district attorney candidate Michael Sullivan, AG candidate Warren Tolman, and Cassandra Bensahih, community organizer of Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement at the Newton event. (Courtesy photo)

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LOWELL -- Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan is facing criticism for attending a political fund-raiser in Lowell for a state representative candidate rather than a prison reform forum in Newton.

Ryan's spokesman, Conor Yunits, said a scheduling conflict prevented Ryan from attending the Newton event, which began at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Yunits declined to elaborate on the conflict, but noted Ryan didn't arrive at state Rep. David Nangle's party until sometime after 6:30 p.m.

The organizer of the Newton event, Ward 6 political director Barbara John, said she personally invited Ryan to attend when she encountered her at an event in Auburndale, a Newton neighborhood, on May 3.

Yunits said Ryan never agreed.

"The campaign had other commitments that evening," said Yunits.

John said she was "shocked" Ryan didn't attend. The Newton event attracted Ryan's opponent, Middlesex Clerk of Courts Michael Sullivan, two candidates for attorney general, Maura Healey and Warren Tolman, Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and Cassandra Bensahih, community organizer for EPOCA, or Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement.

John said she received an email from Ryan campaign manager Gus Bickford on Monday saying the DA would not be in attendance.

Newton is one of the largest communities in Middlesex County. Ward 6, Newton Center, is one of the most politically active in the city, John said.


"We vote in high numbers and politicians are usually responsive to our requests to attend events," John said, noting that Healey, Tolman and Koutoujian attended.

"Speaking for myself and the political committee, we were all very disappointed that Marian Ryan chose not to attend," said John, a 74-year-old retired Boston public school English and math teacher. "The scuttlebutt was that she doesn't want to be at event where Michael Sullivan is. I'm shocked to hear about the fund-raiser in Lowell."

Yunits, senior vice president for new media and public affairs at the Liberty Square Group, said John's claim that Ryan is avoiding Sullivan is outrageous.

Asked if the campaign thought it was more advantageous to attend Nangle's fund-raiser than the prison reform event, Yunits declined to comment.

Yunits added Sullivan bagged a Greater Lowell Area Democrats event in March "when he learned Marian would be speaking."

"I've never backed out of any event in which Marian was a participant," said Sullivan, a Cambridge resident and former Cambridge mayor and city councilor. "I've responded to and attended everything I've been asked to."

In reference to the Newton event, Sullivan said: "I was asked to attend and I did. It was an informative, enlightening event that attracted other candidates. It was a great forum."

Ryan, of Belmont, is a career Middlesex County prosecutor who got her start under the late John D. Droney. She was appointed DA in April 2013 by Gov. Deval Patrick to replace Gerard Leone, who resigned to accept a private-sector job.

Nangle has been a strong Ryan supporter. Soon after she announced her candidacy, Nangle took her to a place in Lowell all aspiring politicians visit: The Owl Diner on Appleton Street.

More recently, Nangle invited her to his March fundraiser at the Bunting Club in Lowell. Sullivan also attended -- uninvited -- much to the dismay of the state representative.

Nangle said Ryan was not officially invited to the fundraiser at the Belvidere home of his close friend Brian McMahon. Ryan was the guest of someone who was: his cousin Annie O'Connor. She and Ryan are close, Nangle said.

Nangle, who has no opposition in this fall's election, was hoping his event raised about $10,000. Besides Ryan, also in attendance were pizza king Sal Lupoli, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, 16th Middlesex Rep. Thomas Golden, and former state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos.

"It was a perfect night," said McMahon. "Very successful."

Follow Scott on Twitter @cscottlowellsun.