Clockwise: Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif, Democratic district attorney nominee Larry Krasner, Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police chief John McNesby, labor leader John Dougherty, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, ward leader Marian Tasco, and protesters at Philadelphia’s Women March.
Philadelphia’s election on Tuesday was a game-changer. The winner of the Democratic primary for district attorney is a criminal defense lawyer who has never prosecuted a case in his life and made a name for himself by suing law enforcement over alleged abuses and representing progressive activists like Black Lives Matter. A young ex-budget director crushed incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the ultimate political insider, in an upset victory.
Those two Democratic nominees, Larry Krasner and Rebecca Rhynhart, are the race’s biggest winners. But who are the other winners and losers — the issues, interest groups, and kingmakers — in the election? Here’s our list: Read more »
Clockwise: District attorney candidates Larry Krasner, Joe Khan, Rich Negrin, Teresa Carr Deni, Jack O’Neill, Tariq El-Shabazz, Beth Grossman and Michael Untermeyer. | Photos courtesy of the campaigns
Do you loathe that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doubling down on the War on Drugs? Are you glad he’s finally restoring law and order to the country? Do you think the city spends too much money locking people up? Just enough? Too little? If you answered affirmatively to any of these questions, then you should vote in this year’s district attorney race. The DA prosecutes crimes in Philadelphia, helping to determine whether justice is delivered to victims and how many people end up in prison every year. The choice in front of voters is as important as ever: Current District Attorney Seth Williams has been accused by the feds of seeking thousands of dollars’ worth of bribes and stealing from his own mom.
Voters will also choose Philadelphia’s next city controller, judges, and election board workers on Tuesday, as well as vote on two ballot questions.
Don’t worry if you haven’t paid close attention to these races — it’s why we created this election guide and an accompanying list of endorsements for each candidate in the district attorney race. It’s a ruthlessly honest, easy-to-understand explanation of the candidates’ pros and cons. Here are your choices. Read more »
L: District Attorney candidate Jack O’Neill R: Labor leader John Dougherty
Building a Better Pennsylvania, a super PAC tied to labor boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, is spending more than $120,000 on TV ads throughout the next week supporting Democratic District Attorney candidate Jack O’Neill, according to two sources familiar with the ad buy. Read more »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Michael Untermeyer | Photo courtesy of Untermeyer’s campaign.
Michael Untermeyer is complicated.
Back in 2009 and 2011, he ran for local office as a Republican. Today, he’s campaigning for district attorney as a Democrat. “The difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is the Democratic Party really wants government to serve people, which is why I am a Democrat,” he says. “The Republican Party doesn’t want to have government, period.”
Untermeyer’s platform includes a lot of things liberals like: The former prosecutor opposes the death penalty in most cases, vows to keep almost all drug users out of the criminal justice system, and wants cash bail to be abolished. But in this hyper-partisan era, the fact that Untermeyer once flew the GOP’s flag — and told Philly.com that “only a Democrat can win this office” — could turn off some Democratic voters. His past experience working in the civil asset forfeiture unit of the attorney general’s office may also prove a challenge in his quest to become district attorney. Read more »
Richard Negrin | Photo courtesy of Mark Nevins
Richard Negrin knows the trauma of gun violence firsthand. When he was just 13 years old, his father was shot dead in front of him. “It’s not fun to talk about, but I talk about it because it gives me credibility with young people,” he says. “I stand in front of classrooms and say, ‘How many of you have been touched by violence in your immediate family?’ In a first-grade class last year, 80 percent of those kids raised their hand.”
That life-changing experience, Negrin says, is why he became an assistant district attorney years ago, prosecuting hate crimes and other felony cases. He’s against a “heavy-handed, authoritarian” District Attorney’s office, he says, and wants a “community-based model that cares about all of us.” He points to Philly Rising, an initiative aimed at fighting poverty and crime that he led while working as the city’s managing director, as an example of that approach. Negrin, who once sat on the local ethics board, is also positioning himself as the good-government candidate in the district attorney’s race. The Democrat has sworn off gifts and campaign contributions from defense attorneys who may stand across from him the courtroom. Some positions he’s taken — or refused to take — may frustrate some progressives. For instance, he won’t say for now whether he wants a super PAC to back him or if cash bail should be abolished for low-level, nonviolent offenders. Read more »
Larry Krasner | Photo courtesy of Krasner campaign
When Larry Krasner kicked off his campaign for district attorney in downtown Philadelphia in early February, more than a dozen political activists stood behind him. There were Black Lives Matter leaders, Occupy Philly alumni, and Arch Street United Methodist Church pastors, among others, almost all of whom Krasner has defended in court. “My biggest accomplishment has been to represent individuals,” he says, “as they faced the Goliath that government can be in order to make sure that they got fair trials and that their constitutional rights were preserved.”
In addition to working as a civil-rights attorney, Krasner has served as a city and federal public defender. A few years ago, he famously accused several narcotics officers of misconduct, and D.A. Seth Williams announced afterward that he would no longer call those cops as witnesses. If elected D.A., Krasner promises never to seek the death penalty, to work to eliminate cash bail, and to take other actions aimed at lowering the city’s sky-high incarceration rate. Read more »