BY GREG SALISBURY – CITY & STATE
In a district attorney’s race notable for the striking number of similarities between the candidates looking to succeed Seth Williams as Philadelphia’s top elected law-enforcement official, Larry Krasner stands out if for no other reason than he is the only candidate thus far to compare himself to former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Granted, he did so only as a way to explain his relatively late entry into the Democratic primary — he joined the fray in February, two days before Williams announced he wouldn’t be running for re-election, and just three months before the May 16 primary.
“There was another candidate who, if she entered the race, I would have supported: Keir Bradford Grey,” Philadelphia's chief public defender, he explained. “Bernie said the same thing about Elizabeth Warren. He tried to get her to run and she wouldn’t. I didn’t try to get Keir to run, but if she had, I would have been happy to stay out.”
Whether due to his entry or to a sea change in attitudes and focus groups, there has been a noticeable progressive shift to the race — something that Krasner believes plays to his strength as a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer with three decades’ experience on the other side of the bar.
The St. Louis native – his family moved to Philadelphia when he was 8 years old – has burnished his defender’s reputation since graduating from Stanford Law School in 1987. Among his clients: protesters arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention and the 2016 Democratic National Convention, as well as Black Lives Matters activists and former Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy in a nightclub brawl last year.
One of Krasner’s most high-profile positions — his vocal stance against the death penalty — was established even earlier than law school.
“ I ended up on a death penalty jury right out of college,” he recalled in an interview. “They didn’t know what they were getting. My experience on that jury had a lot to do with my views on the death penalty. When they asked me what my position was, I was 22; I thought it should be reserved only for things like the assassination of a president.”
In law school, he read extensively about the subject, initially as research for a moot court on the death penalty for juveniles, which cemented his opposition to the practice. “The more I read, the more apparent it became that it was terrible social policy — and also terribly immoral,” he said.
While a district attorney can’t abolish the death penalty, Krasner is eager to use the post to tackle a host of other justice system issues, including tackling exploding prison populations through decarceration.
“Decarceration is a funny word,” he said. “Progressives love the word and conservatives are scared of it — unless you happen to be the Koch brothers, who are in favor of it as well” — likely the only thing the progressive civil rights attorney and right-wing billionaires have in common. “What we are really talking about is over-incarceration. We are talking about the fact that there are too many people in jail and we continue to put people in jail at a rate that is far too high. We are the most incarcerated nation in the world: five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the inmates in the world. In Philly, the cradle of freedom itself, we find that people are being held in State Road (prison facilities) four times as long as they are held in other major cities.”