Lynne Abraham Now OK with Pantsuits, Pot and Abolishing the Death Penalty

The times have changed, and Abraham, it seems, is changing as well.

Lynne Abraham | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Lynne Abraham | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Is Lynne Abraham too stuck in the past to be the mayor of Philadelphia today?

It’s a question that has dogged Abraham, who served as the city’s district attorney from 1991 to 2010, throughout her campaign. She has argued that the query is sexist, but she continues to be slammed for her routine use of the death penalty as D.A., her past dress code that barred female prosecutors from wearing pantsuits, and her handling of a 2008 case in which a cop shot a 20-year-old in the back.

Abraham, though, says she has evolved on a number of issues. In an live interview Monday with Holly Otterbein (okay, that’s me!) as part of Philadelphia magazine’s Candidate Conversations series, Abraham said her views on everything from pantsuits to pot to the death penalty have changed. Whether she has changed enough, or whether it’s a good thing for her to change her opinion on these issues, is for you to decide.

  1. If the death penalty were abolished today, Abraham says she would be “fine with that.” At the same time, though, she isn’t backing down from her frequent use of the death penalty as D.A. In 1995, The New York Times wrote that “no prosecutor in the country uses the death penalty more” than Abraham. If she could do it all over again, would she seek the death penalty less often than she did as district attorney in the 1990s and 2000s? Asked that question on Monday, Abraham said she wouldn’t object if state lawmakers voted to end the death penalty. She also said she isn’t opposed to Gov. Tom Wolf‘s temporary moratorium on executions. But when it comes to her past, she said, “I put my hand on the bible, and I swore to support, obey and defend the constitution of the United States, the constitution of Pennsylvania and the home rule charter, and I do not apologize for following the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Pennsylvania.” We’ll take that as a “no.”
  2. Abraham simultaneously defends putting an end to a skirts-only rule as D.A., and instituting it in the first place. Shortly after becoming District Attorney in 1991, Abraham began requiring female prosecutors to wear skirts or dresses only. Pantsuits were not allowed. In 2003, she ended her ban on pants. On Monday, she explained her rationale: “Pantsuits were impossible to avoid because I couldn’t even buy suits that were skirts anymore.” Asked if her no-pantsuits dress code was sexist, though, Abraham doubled down. She said, “You have to look the part of the person who is a champion of the underdog, the victim,” adding, “I think it’s really important if you’re going to be a champion of the people, you don’t walk in with a T-shirt and Chinos and flip-flops. It just doesn’t work for me. So I think that was acting appropriately in the best and highest interest of the public.” We’re not sure how flip-flops are the same as pantsuits, either.
  3. Abraham finally explains why she flip-flopped on marijuana decriminalization. Sort of. At the beginning of the mayor’s race this January, Abraham said she was opposed to the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of pot. A month later, she said she was for it. What caused the sudden change? Throughout the campaign, she hasn’t provided an easy-to-understand answer to that question, and has often dodged it altogether by saying she is opposed to children using weed. (Who, exactly, is for that?) After asking her to explain her change of heart more than a few times on Monday, Abraham finally answered, “I support that because I think, first of all, it takes police off the streets too much. [The police department] really spends a lot of time doing paperwork.”

So perhaps Abraham does change … eventually … somewhat.