Meet the Civil Rights Lawyer Shaking Up the Race for Philadelphia District Attorney

BY CJ CIARAMELLA – REASON

Larry Krasner, a long-time Philadelphia civil rights and criminal defense attorney, isn't your usual candidate for district attorney, but then, the race to be the city's top prosecutor has been anything but usual.

It started when Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams—under the grim cloud of a federal corruption investigation—announced in February he wouldn't seek reelection. Since then, the sudden race to replace him has taken a remarkably reform-minded turn. Krasner is one of seven Democratic candidates vying for their party's nomination on May 16 to be Philadelphia district attorney. All of them are opponents of the death penalty, favor marijuana decriminalization, and echo the criticisms and concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The landscape of the race changed yet again on Tuesday when the "Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety PAC," an outside spending group affiliated with liberal mega-donor George Soros, announced it was purchasing $300,000 in TV ads to support Krasner.

The cash will put him on a competitive footing with Michael Untermeyer, a former prosecutor and the only other candidate in the race purchasing serious ad time on television. It's also the first time in Philadelphia history that a super PAC has waded into the race for district attorney. In a statement, Whitney Tymas, the treasurer of the PAC, said it is supporting Krasner "because of his commitment to public safety and criminal justice reform." Tymas was also chairman of an outside spending group that worked to successfully unseat Joe Arpaio, the infamous Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff, in November.

If successful, Krasner would be the latest of a number of candidates backed by Soros money to win prosecutor elections over the last two years. Several of those candidates have already made national headlines, such as Aramis Ayala, a Florida state's attorney who was removed from a case by state governor Rick Scott after refusing to seek the death penalty against a defendant.

The race also comes at a time when Philadelphia is in the midst of an experiment to tweak its policing and pre-trial practices to keep low-level offenders out of jail. As part of $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation awarded last year, Philadelphia has reduced its jail population by 12 percent since last April.

Reason spoke to Krasner over the phone about civil asset forfeiture, marijuana, the death penalty, and how he would use his discretion as a prosecutor. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read interview at REASON.COM