Here’s What’s Behind the Sharp Left Turn in Philly’s District Attorney Race

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Michael Untermeyer for District Attorney Campaign; ANNMARIE YOUNG; CITIZENS FOR RICH NEGRIN CAMPAIGN; JOSH PELTA-HELLER/KOALA PHOTOGRAPHY; krasner: NICK KELSH; ZAKIYAH CALDWELL; ERSKINE ISAAC/INVISION PHOTO; map: istockphoto

Clockwise from top left: Michael Untermeyer for District Attorney Campaign; Annmarie Young; Citizens for Rich Negrin Campaign; Josh Pelta-Heller/Koala Photography; Krasner: Nick Kelsh; Zakiyah Caldwell; Erskine Isaac/Invision Photo; Map: Istockphoto

Early in February, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams called an impromptu news conference. He arrived a few minutes after 10 a.m. in a pinstriped shirt, looking like he’d suffered through a long night with nothing but his own thoughts and a cigar. “Good morning, everyone,” he sighed into the microphone. “I have made the very difficult decision not to seek reelection to a third term.”

Williams was facing a rocky campaign. The FBI has been investigating him since at least 2015, and he recently was hit with the biggest fine in the history of the city’s ethics board for taking $175,000 in gifts and not bothering to report them. In those final moments of his political career, Williams made a revealing choice. He spent most of his time at the podium attempting to define his legacy as a victory for progressives: During his seven years in office, he said, he stopped locking people up for smoking pot, increased felony conviction rates, and helped bring humanity to the city’s punitive criminal justice system. Read more »

Philadelphia’s Police Union Endorses Rich Negrin for District Attorney

L to R: District Attorney candidate Rich Negrin and FOP president John McNesby. | Photo courtesy of Negrin's campaign

L to R: District attorney candidate Rich Negrin and FOP president John McNesby. | Photos by AP and courtesy of Negrin’s campaign

Philadelphia’s police union has picked a favorite in the Democratic primary for district attorney: Richard Negrin.

“Rich gets what it takes to keep our city safe,” John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said in a statement. “From his time as a prosecutor to his time as the city’s managing director, Rich has demonstrated a depth of understanding that is unmatched in the field. We know with Rich we’ll have a strong partner in the D.A.’s office and we look forward to working with him to strengthen and grow the relationships between our officers and the communities they serve.”

The FOP announced its endorsement of Negrin on Wednesday morning at a news conference, along with the Guardian Civil League, a group representing the city’s black police officers, and the leader of Philadelphia’s Spanish American Law Enforcement Association. Guardian Civic League president Rochelle Bilal said Negrin’s goal is for Philadelphia to be a city where “diverse communities enjoy strong, lasting relationships with the officers who serve them.” Read more »

The D.A. Candidate Who Threw His Hat in the Ring at the Last Possible Second

Jack O'Neill | Photo courtesy of O'Neill's campaign

Jack O’Neill | Photo courtesy of O’Neill’s campaign

Jack O’Neill kicked off his campaign for district attorney at the last possible minute. Literally.

The first time the 35-year-old Democrat was described as a candidate by the news media was when he submitted 1,776 signatures on his nominating petitions last Tuesday — the deadline for candidates to submit their paperwork to appear on the ballot. Before then, O’Neill hadn’t put out so much as a press release about his electoral ambitions.

Politicos were left scratching their heads: Who is this mystery man? And why would he jump into a race that already had six Democrats at each other’s throats?

“The reason I got in later than most people was because I was not going to run against Seth [Williams] in a campaign that seemed like it was going to be about trashing Seth for his personal problems,” says O’Neill. “I didn’t think it would help the city. I didn’t think it would help the D.A.’s office. I didn’t think it would help people’s confidence in law enforcement.”

O’Neill spoke with Philly Mag last week for nearly an hour. He talked about his experience prosecuting the “Kensington rapist,” his plan to expand the city’s crime-fighting Focused Deterrence program, and why he believes he is the most qualified person in the race to implement big reforms. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Read our Q&As with the other D.A. candidates in the May 16th election here. Read more »

Meet the D.A. Candidate Who Led Philly’s Civil Asset Forfeiture System

Beth Grossman | Photo courtesy of Grossman's campaign

Beth Grossman | Photo courtesy of Grossman’s campaign

Beth Grossman was a prosecutor for more than 20 years, serving in every unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

From 2007 to 2015, the Republican led the city’s public nuisance task force, where she shut down nuisance bars, cleaned up abandoned lots, and cracked down on out-of-state slumlords, she says. The task force also handled civil asset forfeiture, which enables district attorneys to seize people’s cash and homes even if they are not convicted of a crime. The system has come under fire nationwide from both liberals and conservatives in recent years; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said this month it “has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”

Grossman is proud of her time in charge of the city’s civil asset forfeiture program. She says she used the law to seize drug dealers’ homes and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods. “A neighbor called to thank me for getting rid of a drug house next door to him. He told me that he could now sit on his porch again,” she says. “Enjoying the basic joys and comforts of one’s home without crime negatively affecting his or her safety and quality of life is something that everyone in Philadelphia should be able to do.” Read more »

Feds Accuse Tierra Colombiana and Mixto of Failing to Pay Overtime

Tierra-937x538

L: Tierra Colombiana | Photo via Google Street View

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a Fair Labor Standards Act complaint against Mixto and Tierra Colombiana, alleging that the Latin American restaurants failed to pay their employees overtime.

According to the filing, the popular Philadelphia eateries gave their workers a handbook that explicitly laid out their no-overtime policy: “Mixto/Tierra Colombiana does not pay overtime. Every extra hour will be paid as a regular salary.” The federal government also accused Mixto and Tierra Colombiana of not keeping records of their workers’ wages and hours. Read more »

Feds Accuse Tierra Colombiana and Mixto of Failing to Pay Overtime

L: X

L: Tierra Colombiana | Photo via Google Street View

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a Fair Labor Standards Act complaint against Mixto and Tierra Colombiana, alleging that the Latin American restaurants failed to pay their employees overtime.

According to the filing, the popular Philadelphia eateries gave their workers a handbook that explicitly laid out their no-overtime policy: “Mixto/Tierra Colombiana does not pay overtime. Every extra hour will be paid as a regular salary.” The federal government also accused Mixto and Tierra Colombiana of not keeping records of their workers’ wages and hours. Read more »

Can El-Shabazz Win Over Voters Despite His Tax Debts, Ties to Seth Williams?

Tariq El-Shabazz | Photo courtesy of El-Shabazz's campaign

Tariq El-Shabazz | Photo courtesy of El-Shabazz’s campaign

Tariq El-Shabazz, a Democrat running for district attorney, has baggage. A lot of baggage.

Philly.com reported that there are more than $190,000 in tax lien judgements filed against him, and his former law firm was taken to court six times for failing to pay rent. El-Shabazz says he is now in a payment plan, but refuses to reveal how much money he’s paid toward his debts. That’s not all: A petition for a protection-from-abuse order was filed against him and later withdrawn, according to Philadelinquency. From September 2016 to February 2017, El-Shabazz was also the righthand man to District Attorney Seth Williams, who abandoned his reelection campaign amid questions about $175,000 worth of gifts that he failed to report as well an FBI investigation into his finances.

To win the D.A.’s race, El-Shabazz will need to convince voters that he is independent from Williams and can manage an office with a $52 million budget despite his own financial problems. “I know for a fact those liens did not prevent me from doing the job that I needed to do when I was in the D.A.’s office,” he says. “However, they are debt that needs to be handled and they are being handled.” Read more »

The D.A. Candidate Who Wants to Stop Prosecuting Most Low-Level Drug Offenses

Joe Khan | Photo courtesy of Khan's campaign

Joe Khan | Photo courtesy of Khan’s campaign

Joe Khan is a young progressive running for district attorney who wants to ditch cash bail, revamp the civil asset forfeiture program, and stop prosecuting most simple drug possession cases. “I think it’s becoming more and more clear,” he says, “that when we talk about the people buying and using opioids or other drugs, that the approach of treating this as a criminal matter is simply just not making sense and is not being an effective use of our resources.”

If Khan’s platform sounds familiar, that’s because civil rights attorney Larry Krasner and ex-prosecutor Michael Untermeyer are also running for D.A. on some of the same ideas. In order to win, Khan will need to set himself apart from the Democratic field. Read more »

Can Teresa Carr Deni Convince Voters to Look Past a Controversial Legal Case?

Teresa Carr Deni

Teresa Carr Deni | Photo courtesy of Tommie St. Hill

“Philly Judge Criticized for Rape Decision.” “Judge Criticized for Considering Gang Rape on Prostitute ‘Theft of Services.’” “Judge Who Thinks Rape is ‘Theft of Services’ Up for Retention in Philly.”

Those are some of the headlines that pop up when you Google Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni’s name. Back in 2007, the Democrat dismissed sexual assault charges against a man who allegedly raped a prostitute at gunpoint, which drew ire from local women’s groups. She let robbery charges stand, telling the Philadelphia Daily News at the time, “She consented and she didn’t get paid. I thought it was a robbery.” Now, Deni says the media “misconstrued” the case, and that “the situation was corrected, and everyone was pleased with the result.” Read more »

How Trump’s Election May Have Changed the Future of Philly Politics

Illustration by Gluekit (protesters: iStock; City Hall: C. Smyth/Visit Philadlephia)

Illustration by Gluekit (protesters: iStock; City Hall: C. Smyth/Visit Philadlephia)

Something is happening in this city.

For years, many Philadelphians took democracy for granted. A pathetic 27 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2015 primary race. Only 89,000 people — out of the city’s roughly 1.2 million voting-age citizens — picked our current district attorney. The fact that voters don’t even have a choice in many City Council and state legislative races, thanks to one-party rule, has long been met with a shrug. Then came November 8th. Now, protests spontaneously break out in the streets and at the airport. Every Tuesday, a group founded by seven local women airs grievances outside Senator Pat Toomey’s Center City office. If that doesn’t convince you the wind may be blowing in a different direction, consider the fact that 800 people packed a downtown church in January to talk about gerrymandering. Gerrymandering! Read more »

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