Josh Shapiro Wins Democratic Primary for Attorney General

The Montgomery County Commissioner campaigned as a reformer seeking to clean up after Kane, and fought a challenge from Allegheny County D.A. Stephen Zappala.

In this Sept. 4, 2013 file photo, Josh Shapiro speaks in Harrisburg, Pa. Shapiro will announce his candidacy to be attorney general on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower, File)

In this Sept. 4, 2013 file photo, Josh Shapiro speaks in Harrisburg, Pa. Shapiro will announce his candidacy to be attorney general on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower, File)

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro has won the Democratic primary for state attorney general, and will face Republican challenger John Rafferty in the general election in November.

His chief rival, Allegheny County D.A. Stephen Zappala, conceded the race.

At his victory party, Shapiro said, “I’m running because I fundamentally believe that Pennsylvania needs real reform. That we’ve got to clean ourselves up from the scandals that have rocked our justice system. That there’s a crisis of confidence today in Pennsylvania that makes too many people feel like the justice system isn’t working for them but rather working against them. Too many Pennsylvanians feel like the system is rigged against them. I’m running to repair that breach of trust.”

He thanked President Obama for weighing in on the race and City Council President Darrell Clarke for being the first man in Pennsylvania to take his call.

Shapiro, a former state representative with a law degree from Georgetown but no trial experience, had campaigned as a reformer, promising to “restore integrity” to the office in the wake of Kathleen Kane’s scandalplagued tenure. Kane announced in February that she would not seek a second term.

The 42-year-old candidate has pledged to enforce fracking violations, expand the Gun Violence Task Force, and treat drug addiction as a disease rather than a crime. He says he’d implement an “integrity agenda” with ethics training and a code of conduct, while seeking a more diverse government workforce. He has also come out in support of a lawsuit filed by the Public Interest Law Center against the State of Pennsylvania over the state’s education-funding formula.

Shapiro fought off challenges from Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, and, more formidably, Allegheny County D. A. Stephen Zappala. Zappala started picking up steam in Philadelphia late last month, and on Tuesday he had a far more visible street game, thanks to the support of the Democratic City Committee and the free-spending and influential Electricians Union Local 98, led by John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty. (The support of southeastern PA Democrats for a southwestern guy over one of their own confused some political observers. Zappala’s father endorsed Dougherty’s brother, Kevin, for a Supreme Court seat last fall, which some saw as the reason for Local 98 supporting Zappala for attorney general.)

The mood was occasionally tense at Shapiro’s election party at the Doubletree Hotel in King of Prussia Tuesday night, with Zappala and Shapiro trading the lead as results trickled in. Guests arrived slowly while volunteers tallied returns at a table in the corner. High fives and hugs started flying around shortly after 10 p.m., as Shapiro’s lead grew while results in Montco, his base, had yet to be counted.

Zappala’s campaign mounted some last-minute attacks on Shapiro as polls showed the latter with a comfortable lead. On Sunday, the Zappala team sent out a press release saying that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had rescinded its endorsement of Shapiro after learning that he accepted a $100,000 donation from Students First PAC, a pro-charter group that sank millions into State Sen. Anthony Williams’ failed bid for mayor last year. (Reached on Tuesday, PFT spokesman George Jackson said the organization had no endorsement in the race, and wouldn’t confirm that it had initially thrown its support to Shapiro. Shapiro was listed as the PFT’s endorsed candidate on its website on April 9th.)

Zappala supporters also attacked Shapiro over a TV ad he aired suggesting that Zappala, as D.A. in Allegheny County, had gone easy on five white men who were caught on video assaulting a black man at a Pittsburgh train station last year. Frank Keel, a political consultant paid by Local 98, called a last-minute press conference on Monday with Philadelphia political leaders to endorse Zappala and to condemn Shapiro’s ad as “race-baiting.”

Zappala himself launched an early campaign ad using images of Walter Scott, a black man shot in the back by a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, and Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a prison cell in Texas after being pulled over for a traffic violation. The ad implied that Zappala’s forward-thinking leadership of the Allegheny County D.A.’s office had prevented similar incidents in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. Earlier this month on 900 AM WURD, Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said she had asked the Zappala campaign to stop using Bland’s image and hadn’t gotten a response.

On Tuesday, some campaign materials were circulating around the city saying “Black Lives Matter – Vote Zappala.” It wasn’t immediately clear who paid for the Zappala/Black Lives Matter materials. Keel said that Local 98 had produced a dozen t-shirt designs for candidates it was endorsing on election day, but none of them mentioned Black Lives Matter. Representatives of the city and state chapters of Black Lives Matter didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the weeks leading up to the election, political leaders split their endorsements. Shapiro was endorsed by President Barack Obama, Governor Tom Wolf, former Mayor and former Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Bob Casey, and City Council President Darrell Clarke. Zappala was endorsed by Mayor Jim Kenney, State Sen. Williams, former Mayor John Street, Congressman Bob Brady and the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee.

It was an unusually fractured set of endorsements from Philly Democrats. Not only were the new Mayor and the Council President on opposite sides of the table, but Clarke also split with Street, who gave him his start in politics. Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon, a former Local 98 political director, was also supporting Zappala, while Council’s most outspoken public education advocate, Helen Gym, was pulling for Shapiro.

Follow @JaredBrey on Twitter.