BY ABRAHAM GUTMAN – SALON
Something interesting is happening in Philadelphia, where the race for district attorney this spring is a tight and unpredictable one. With incumbent Seth Williams not seeking re-election after corruption allegations and federal charges, the field is wide open. The only thing that we know for sure is that the person who wins the Democratic primary on May 16 will almost certainly be the city’s next DA. In candidate forums, all seven Democratic contenders seem to have one favorite word: reform.
... At the beginning of the race, as the candidates started to announce their policy platforms, I thought I had it all figured out. Krasner was the Bernie Sanders of this race, the progressive reformer who doesn’t shy away from systemic issues and is more comfortable hanging out with activists than with millionaires. Negrin, El-Shabazz and Khan seemed ready to battle for the role of establishment candidate, the mainstream figure who is sympathetic to reform but always comes back to a pragmatic view of what is politically feasible. In other words, they were the potential Hillary Clintons of the field. Jack O’Neill is the charming young guy without name recognition, along the lines of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Deni’s candidacy is a bit like seeing Justice Stephen Breyer run for office and Untermeyer is roughly equivalent to Michael Bloomberg — a rich ex-Republican whose ideas resonate with some progressives.
But 2017 truly follows 2016, and last year’s political calculus just doesn’t work anymore. At one event after another, each Democratic candidate has doubled and tripled down on the need for reform.
... This is unusual for Philadelphia. Across the street from city hall is a statute of a large man waving. That man is former police commissioner and mayor (from 1972 to 1980), Frank Rizzo. The former commissioner, who cops affectionately being referred to as “The General,” was infamous for his aggressive policing tactics and tough-on-crime rhetoric. During Rizzo’s years, the police department expanded dramatically in manpower and budget.
Krasner, the DA candidate in Philadelphia, recently told me that it is imperative to “acknowledge and recognize that the legacy of Frank Rizzo is not dead.” He isn’t wrong. In the 2009 Democratic primary, the last one with no incumbent, DA candidate Brian Grady, openly supported the use of the death penalty. When it comes to criminal justice, the city of Frank Rizzo is not a city of reform, but things are changing.
All resistance is local. Something has unmistakably changed, in Philadelphia and across the nation.