Philly’s Keir Bradford-Grey is Running to Be Pa.’s Next Attorney General

She would be the first woman of color to win the office in Pennsylvania. Here’s what she has to say about her long career in criminal justice and why that makes her the best person for the job.

Keir Bradford-Grey

Keir Bradford-Grey, the former Chief Defender of Philadelphia (and previously of Montgomery County), a role that provides criminal defense representation for defendants who can’t afford such, has officially announced that she’s running for Pennsylvania Attorney General. A longtime Democrat, she’s earned a reputation for tackling racial inequity within the city’s criminal justice system. In an exclusive interview with Philly Mag, Bradford-Grey discusses why her backgrounds in social justice and law make her the right candidate for our current climate, how her unique political ideology influences her approach to enforcing the law, and how she’s navigated being no stranger to “firsts” her entire career.

You’re officially running to be Pennsylvania’s next Attorney General. What motivated you to throw your hat in what’s already shaping up to be a competitive race?
Keir Bradford-Grey: I’m running for Attorney General because every Pennsylvanian deserves to be protected equally. That is what I’ve fought for my entire career. I’ve worked within systems that some had considered too rigid or too entrenched to change — and we nevertheless created real change that made our communities safer.

As the chief public defender in Montgomery County, I transformed the office from one that provided legal services to the community into one that worked hand-in-hand with the community to understand its needs. It became one that considered the complexities of our changing society and incorporated new perspectives into its services and policies. I prioritized fact-based decision-making over assumption-based decision-making. I also added expertise to our office by creating a social services department and a policy advocacy program to help lawyers better understand how to represent the whole person, which ultimately advances public safety. Most importantly, I brought the community into the work so that they could be actual participants in the outcomes — not just spectators.

When I served as the chief public defender in Philadelphia County, I brought the same collaborative leadership style. I partnered with local and state officials, major organizations such as the NFL, and community stakeholders, who are often the most underutilized partners. The work we did transformed how the defender offices serve the people. My leadership marked a new era for our defender offices and its partnership with their communities. That took time, openness, and resolve.

I know what it takes to solve the problems Pennsylvania families are facing. And it’s not just because I’ve seen them in my career, but because I’ve lived them. I grew up in a family that faced economic turmoil, and I was the first in my family to graduate college. I know what it’s like to worry about your safety. My lived experiences have prepared me to be a strong advocate for all Pennsylvanians as Attorney General.

As Philly’s Chief Public Defender, you pushed for criminal justice reform in and out of your office. What lessons from that job would you take to this one?
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with everyone — law enforcement, prosecutors, and community stakeholders — to solve the challenges we face in our everyday lives. I’ve built a track record as a collaborative team player who delivers results. As the chief public defender in Philadelphia, I was responsible for community-government partnerships that sought to empower local leaders to be a part of the justice reform process; there are now 10 justice hubs throughout the city as a direct result of that work. That’s the type of problem-solver I am.

We’re building a broad coalition on this campaign that welcomes everyone and includes all perspectives. The issues we face, like public safety, are not Black or white, red or blue, or police versus community. They’re much bigger than that. We can all work together to create a safer society. That’s the collaborative approach I’ve taken throughout my career and that I’ll bring to the office of the Attorney General.

What are the top priorities for the Attorney General’s office?
There is so much on the line right now that will come to the desk of the Attorney General. Women’s access to healthcare is under attack; our fundamental right to vote is in peril; corporate polluters threaten our clean air and clean water; and communities across the Commonwealth are facing public safety concerns. I will use every tool in my arsenal to fight for all communities and level the playing field against powerful bad actors.

The next Attorney General can also play a crucial role in combating the racial wealth gap and promoting economic security. I will enforce anti-discrimination laws, promote financial literacy, and support initiatives that expand access to housing and healthcare. I will also use my role to be an intentional partner in the effort to reduce gun violence by targeting illegal gun distributors, and pushing corporate gun dealers and manufacturers to share in the effort of responsible gun ownership and acquisition.

All of these issues are part of the Attorney General’s responsibility to public safety; when you don’t know if you can obtain necessary healthcare services, or you don’t know how to pay for the roof over your head, you do not feel safe. As Attorney General, I will fight every day to solve the challenges facing Pennsylvanians.

How would you describe your approach to enforcing the law?
My career has been anchored in fairness, justice, and equal protection of the law. I have advanced the principles of the law so that they are applicable to our current societal norms and needs. I’m committed to ensuring that the law is fairly applied to every individual by considering all perspectives.

I’m an effective problem-solver, and that’s what my track record shows. As a public defender, I’ve often been met with the challenge of creating change with limited resources. I’ve been relentless in evaluating where our systems fall short, and then creating effective solutions that make our communities safer. As Attorney General, I will build on my career of bringing a thoughtful and nuanced approach to enforcing the law.

Running as a Democrat from Philly, how would you define your political ideology to voters across Pennsylvania?
As the first African American to lead the Defender Association of Philadelphia and a public defender for more than two decades, my track record has shown that I can, and have, successfully worked with people from all political backgrounds to get results for our communities — across every corner of our commonwealth.

As an African American woman and public defender, people have wanted to put me in neatly defined buckets my whole life. But my lived experiences are more nuanced than that. I bring a practical approach to my work that has proven results that are long-lasting and sustainable. I proactively seize opportunities that enhance public safety and improve people’s lives. I’ve always sought to help the systems I’ve worked within progress.

The 2024 election cycle is going to be packed with major national and state races. What do you say to voters who might be feeling apathetic given the current political climate?
It’s a scary time for our democracy. I believe that the path forward starts with reasonable and responsible leaders who want better for people, not just opportunities to grandstand and capitalize on division. People want to know that there are leaders who want to lead for the right reasons. We need leaders who connect with people, and who are authentic in their desire to be solution-driven, not ego-driven.

Our fundamental rights are under attack, from access to the ballot box, to the right to make our own choices about our bodies, to the urgent need for criminal justice reform. The only way to change our current course – to protect our environment so we breathe clean air, to make our communities safer – is to elect leaders who will truly fight for you. As your Attorney General, I will always be in your corner. I am going to stand up for you every day to fight for our shared vision for Pennsylvania.

If elected, you would be the first Black woman to be Attorney General in Pennsylvania — and one of the few nationwide. What message do you have for the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, which has previously struggled with endorsing Black candidates in statewide races?
Our perspectives need to be part of the conversation. I believe that we achieve our most effective solutions when we consider a diverse range of life experiences in key leadership roles. If we are the party of inclusivity, then we need to demonstrate that intention in our leadership. By diversifying our leadership, we make sure that every Democrat feels seen and heard in our party. We need to ensure we are what we say we are.

I’m no stranger to firsts. I was the first in my family to graduate college, the first African American woman to lead a department in Montgomery County government, and the first African American to run the nation’s fourth largest public defender’s office. Now, I’m the only woman and only African American running for Attorney General — and if elected, I would be another first. But most importantly, I am committed to not being the last.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.