“Completely Unelectable” Progressive Larry Krasner Wins DA’s Race

He beat Republican Beth Grossman by more than 40 percentage points.

Larry Krasner | Photo courtesy of Krasner’s campaign

At 9 a.m. this morning, Arlene Wilson was nervous.

The South Philadelphia resident wanted Larry Krasner, the Democrat running for district attorney, to win. But even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one in this city, she wasn’t 100 percent sure he’d make it to the finish line. “This is a quiet election,” she said. “No one’s heard of it.” Plus, there’s been so much “infighting amongst the Democrats.”

Wilson wasn’t the only person who thought Republican Beth Grossman might pull off a historic upset. WURD afternoon host Charles Ellison wrote in October that Krasner “may end up throwing this away.” GOP voters were feeling more optimistic than usual, too. And why wouldn’t they? The city police union and the Philadelphia Inquirer, both of which often back Democrats, endorsed Grossman. “I’m surprised to say it,” said 90-year-old Northeast Philly resident William Britt, smiling after he cast a vote this morning, “but I think she has a chance.”

But Republicans misjudged. With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Krasner beat Grossman 74 percent to 26 percent, although according to polling results so far, Grossman did outperform other recent Republican DA candidates by a small margin. Democrat Seth Williams won the DA’s race by 81 percent and 75 percent in 2013 and 2009, respectively; his predecessor Lynne Abraham led with 82 percent of the vote in 2005.

The Associated Press called the race for Krasner at 9:08 p.m. Tuesday.

Krasner’s victory indicates that progressives are growing more powerful in a city that has typically been more mainstream. In Philly’s 2016 primary, Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by double digits. That’s quite different from what happened today and in this year’s primary, when Krasner rose to the top of a crowded field of Democrats with the most left-wing platform in the race.

Krasner’s election could also be interpreted to mean that the city’s Fraternal Order of Police has less political clout than thought: It tried to thwart Krasner not only in the general election but in the primary as well, when it endorsed former assistant district attorney Rich Negrin. Union president John McNesby called Krasner’s candidacy “hilarious.”

Most of Krasner’s opponents, including Grossman, were longtime prosecutors. Krasner, on the other hand, has never worked for the DA’s office a day in his life. He is a civil rights and defense attorney who has represented Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philly. He’s also sued the police department and City Hall more than 75 times, and promised never to seek the death penalty or bring cases based on illegal searches. Krasner once joked that he’d “spent a career becoming completely unelectable.”

When Krasner is sworn in next year, he won’t only be one of the most progressive politicians in Philly. He’ll also be one of the most progressive DAs in the country. Maybe even the most progressive, in fact. Earlier this week, the Atlantic wrote that “Krasner wouldn’t be the first ‘reform-minded’ prosecutor to take office, a term used to describe the growing cohort of district and state’s attorneys vowing to overhaul cash bail, abolish the death penalty, and crack down on police corruption. But he would be the most progressive in this pool, a distinction that takes on extra weight at a time when the Justice Department is moving right.”

Unlike most Philly DA elections, this one was being watched across the country. “Most interesting race of the day today, for me, is @Krasner4DA in Philly,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted. Many saw it saw as a test of progressives’ clout. That means that, at least in theory, Krasner’s success could have an impact on the trajectory of the Democratic Party throughout the nation.

At the polls on Tuesday, some voters for Grossman worried that Krasner would be soft on crime. Others, like 67-year-old Normandy resident Eleanor Driscoll, said corruption in the local Democratic Party was among their top concerns. Driscoll said usually votes for Democrats, but cast a ballot for Grossman this time partly because she is “frustrated with the Seth Williams stuff.” Williams pleaded guilty to bribery earlier this year.

Krasner supporters, meanwhile, said they were looking for the Democrat to both keep their family safe and overhaul the criminal justice system. “[It] needs reform,” said South Philly resident Tony Glassman. “If there’s a bad cop, they need to be held accountable and not protected.”