Boston — Massachusetts Republicans have a new member - a former Democrat with strong political ties to United States Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Attorney Edward F. Harrington, who served in key US Justice Department posts under former Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter, switched to the GOP Monday, blasting state Democratic leaders for overlooking corruption for the sake of expediency.
Describing himself as a political ''moderate,'' the new Republican said he is ''very comfortable'' ideologically in the GOP, once having decided to make the break.
Mr. Harrington, who was US attorney for Massachusetts from 1977 to 1981, and in the early '70s headed the Justice Department's organized-crime strike force in New England, lashed out against the Bay State's now third-term attorney general, Francis X. Bellotti, for ''mishandling of prosecutions.''
Although denying his political switch was motivated by a desire to oppose Mr. Bellotti in 1986, the new Republican did nothing to rule out that possibility, adding that his first goal is to win over the GOP electorate.
Asked whether his move was discussed with Senator Kennedy, he said ''no,'' it is something that ''I knew I had to do.''
In his statement Harrington paid tribute to ''the Kennedy family, especially Robert and Ted,'' to whom he said ''I owe much of my opportunities for public service.'' Making it clear his break is with the party, not with the Kennedys, he added that they continue to have his ''respect, admiration, and gratitude.''
In severing his old party ties, Mr. Harrington asserted: ''The surpassing issue before this state today is not liberal or conservative, to tax or not to tax, to regulate or deregulate, as important as these questions may be - but the high cost and demoralizing influence of public corruption - publicly condoned by the requirement of party unity.
He also assailed Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who was elected in 1982 on an anticorruption issue, for not rocking the political boat.