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Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams shocked the city last month when he announced that he would not run for reelection in May. The news came only two days after he told reporters that he would stay in the District Attorney’s race despite the fact that he was under investigation by the FBI and facing other ethics problems.
Now we know why Williams might’ve changed his mind so quickly: The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey announced corruption charges against Williams at 3 p.m. this afternoon. The office has handled the investigation, which has largely focused on Williams’s finances. Read more »
Photo by Jeff Fusco
The most open forum in which to hear the unfiltered thoughts of black men in Philly is arguably the barbershop. No matter what our wealth, age, religion, and/or sexual orientation, the need for a fine hair cut is the factor that unites us all. Heated conversations on social issues and personal anecdotes flow freely during long waits for shape-ups and fades. The barbershop has even become an obligatory stop for politicians to stump for undecided votes — during any election season, one can expect buttons and placards to be left on seats.
Such was the case last week with Tariq El-Shabazz, the only black candidate running for district attorney. Someone at my barbershop in West Philly wearing one of his campaign buttons prompted a conversation about the highly contested race. Now, per the barbershop code, what was said in the shop stays in the shop — but let’s just say the conversation was heated and divided. 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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Tariq Karim El-Shabazz, the former top deputy of District Attorney Seth Williams, has joined six others vying to fill Williams’ position next term. Read more »
District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP
There is an adage that goes: “To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.”
Someone should have told that to former federal prosecutor Joe Khan during a event featuring district attorney candidates at Philly for Change on South Street earlier this month. I was there to get a personal glimpse at three-fifths of the field that was at that point running against Seth Williams for the role of top prosecutor. In attendance were former city managing director Richard Negrin, former Municipal Court judge Teresa Carr Deni, and Khan. (Not present were Democrat Michael Untermeyer and Republican Beth Grossman, and the event was held before civil rights attorney Larry Krasner threw his hat in.) Read more »