A 'Completely Unelectable' Progressive Will Probably Win Philadelphia's DA Race


PHILADELPHIA—When civil-rights attorney Larry Krasner won the Democratic primary for district attorney here last spring, it made national headlines—not because he won with a large margin, which he did, but because in a race crowded with progressives, he stood distinctly in left field.

Krasner was the outsider candidate, offering voters zero experience as a prosecutor. As a defense attorney, he sued the Philadelphia Police Department dozens of times and represented Occupy and Black Lives Matter activists pro bono. And while his primary opponents were reformers, too, only he had spent decades litigating against the office all were vying to lead. Put simply: “I’ve spent a career becoming completely unelectable,” as Krasner joked at a recent debate.

Come Tuesday, Krasner will see just how electable he really is when he faces off against Republican Beth Grossman in the city’s municipal elections. But the rest of the country may learn something, too. The DA race is being watched as a potential bellwether among political organizers, analysts, and pundits trying to gauge voter appetite for progressive candidates in the era of President Trump.

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‘Meet a Candidate: A conversation with Larry Krasner’ draws over 100 attendees



In a few days, Philadelphia selects its next district attorney.

The City’s next DA not only has to grapple with a demoralized staff and a skeptical public, but also with a myriad of criminal justice policy issues and questionable practices that still need to be addressed.

During one of many campaign events held over the last few weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election — a Q &A session entitled “Meet a Candidate: A Conversation with Larry Krasner” — voters were given a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns.

The event — held at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City — was sponsored by Huddle Up Philly, Millennials in Action, My Family Votes, Philly Up, Philly Women Rally, Inc., POWER, The People United USA, Women in POWER, and many other organizations.

Organizers of the event invited both DA candidates to participate. Although both candidates accepted the invitation to speak, Republican candidate Beth Grossman had to cancel due to a scheduling conflict.

In his opening statement, Krasner said that last spring’s primary was an “election by movement.”

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An inside look at the most progressive candidate in a generation, who's poised to take on the most incarcerated major city in the US

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider


Civil rights attorney Larry Krasner has always been obsessed with what it takes to make change. At the age of 11, he got into a debate with his Sunday School teacher about whether it was right to break the law for the greater good. The two were arguing over the Civil Rights movement and protests over the Vietnam War — events that shaped his life and perspective.

Today, Krasner is running for district attorney of Philadelphia, a powerful position in a city with the highest rate of incarceration of the US's 10 most populated cities.

At 56, he is pursuing elected office for the first time after a 30-year career defending radical activist groups like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia. He's also sued police for civil rights violations more than 75 times. ...

Krasner, well-dressed in a sharply cut blue suit, tinted horn-rimmed glasses, and a well-kempt head of silvery hair, doesn't look the part of a political outsider.

With his raspy but measured speech, he could pass for a senator in a liberal state. But make no mistake, Krasner may be the most progressive candidate for such a major office in years. The center of his campaign platform is ending "mass incarceration," the constellation of state and federal policies that have put more than 2 million Americans behind bars.

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This abuse by America's DAs is one of the reasons why athletes kneel


Do you still wonder why some NFL players or other pro athletes kneel or raise their fists during the National Anthem? Here’s a hint: It’s not because they hate our troops. No, it’s because they’re aware — often because of their own experiences — of systematic injustice in this country … and they wonder why next to nothing is being done. And it’s not just police-involved shootings. Consider the ongoing abuses of the procedure known as civil asset forfeiture.

The short version is this: Civil asset forfeitures take a notion that most people support — drug dealers and other convicted crooks shouldn’t keep their ill-gotten gains — and, in far too many jurisdictions, has warped it into a kind of bounty hunting program where cash, cars, and even homes can be seized from people who weren’t convicted of a crime and sometimes weren’t even charged. This can bring in millions of dollars that prosecutors and law-enforcement agencies then spend with little or no public oversight.

... despite years of abuses exposed in the media, an association with the taint of civil asset forfeiture doesn’t seem to hurt your political career. How else to explain how Beth Grossman, who ran the program for years, won the GOP district attorney nomination and endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Inquirer? ... Shouldn’t bad experience count for something?

Grossman’s Democratic opponent, Lawrence Krasner, has promised to only pursue assets after a criminal has been convicted. For common-sense proposals like that, some have branded Krasner a radical. But when you have a criminal justice system that is so badly broken, and so much in need of radical reform, is a radical not what you need?  Five months after Krasner’s overwhelming win in the Democratic primary, too many people see his victory as a fluke and not what it really was — an uprising of a new majority, boosted by the young and non-whites and others whose voices tend to be marginalized in this town, who aren’t just sick of injustice and inequity in America but are getting fed up with elites who don’t take their concerns seriously. Call it a revolution — and call it long overdue.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer Just Endorsed Mass Incarceration


In May, Philadelphians went to the polls and made history, voting by a large margin to back civil rights attorney Larry Krasner in the city’s Democratic primary for district attorney. On Sunday, residents awoke to find that the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board had endorsed Krasner’s Republican opponent, Beth Grossman, a former top prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office.

Krasner rallied Philadelphians to an upstart, radical campaign calling for an end to the era of mass incarceration and impunity for police misconduct. The city’s struggling paper of record endorsed a candidate who presided over a nationally infamous civil asset forfeiture program through which prosecutors seized homes and other property from city residents, oftentimes poor and working-class, black and Latino. At least, the editorial gushed, she has “a welcome hesitancy to go for the death penalty.”

Philadelphians want change. The Inquirer board ploddingly declared itself for the enervating cause of defending an intolerable status quo that will most likely be defeated on election day.

But points for consistency: Grossman is the second candidate for top prosecutor the paper has endorsed who has also been backed by the city’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, an unapologetically reactionary officers union headed by a man who recently called Black Lives Matter protesters “a pack of wild animals.” 

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Changing the Politics of Mass Incarceration


It’s been almost 50 years since President Richard Nixon played the law-and-order card to help him win the presidency. Decades later Donald Trump has adopted the same playbook, telling his own version of the forgotten American who is at the mercy of a crime wave. It didn’t matter that facts didn’t support candidate Trump’s arguments. Politically speaking, it worked.

... Philadelphia  has most recently exemplified this phenomenon. It has a long history of electing politicians who ran on a law-and-order platform. Former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo took pride in being a “tough cop.” Lynne Abraham, elected district attorney of Philadelphia from 1991 to 2010, was called America’s “Deadliest D.A.” by the New York Times because of her zeal for pursuing the death penalty. For reformers living in that era, it would have been impossible to imagine a politician who could win on a criminal justice reform agenda, let alone a politician running to be the city’s top prosecutor.

Yet today, the leading candidate for Philadelphia district attorney is a civil rights lawyer who has never been a prosecutor, and who won the Democratic primary running on a platform centered on criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration. 

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The last death-penalty case in Philadelphia before a new DA


The landscape of capital punishment has changed a great deal in 45 years, but one thing remains the same: A death sentence is still as arbitrary as a bolt of lightning. And as if to prove this axiom yet again, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty against Robert Lark for a murder committed almost 40 years ago.

... Larry Krasner, who handily won the Democratic primary for district attorney and is a favorite to win in November, campaigned on a promise not to seek the death penalty. His website says it all: The death penalty “has cost Pennsylvania taxpayers over $1 billion, yet no one on Pennsylvania’s death row has been put to death involuntarily since 1962. Meanwhile, six people on death row have been exonerated. Philadelphia is the only Northeastern city in which a death sentence is possible.” As Krasner likes to say, “We have to stop lighting money on fire.” Even Krasner’s opponent, Beth Grossman, says, “I wonder whether [the death penalty] is at this point even economically feasible.”

Which brings us to the question: Why is the Philadelphia district attorney seeking the death penalty against Robert Lark?

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How Philly plans to ditch cash bail and what stands in the way


Democratic candidate for district attorney Larry Krasner has a plan to get rid of cash bail. He’s not the only game in town.

Krasner, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia district attorney and the favorite to win the November general election, branded himself as the outsider candidate — the criminal defense attorney who was going to come in as the city’s top prosecutor and turn the Office of the District Attorney upside down. In a field of seven candidates, Krasner won the primary and topped the second-place finisher by 18 points on a wave of progressive support, largely through vowing to never seek the death penalty, to address systematic mass incarceration and, yes, to reform the city’s cash bail system

A Recognition That We’re All Getting Screwed


It’s 12 degrees with the wind chill on this mid-March Saturday morning, and I keep switching my clipboard from one hand to another so each gloved hand can take a turn regaining circulation in my pocket. Nobody answers at the first few doors I knock, and I don’t blame them for not wanting to let the cold in. Even if someone answers, I wonder if I’ll be able to persuade anyone here to vote for Larry Krasner, the most progressive candidate for district attorney that Philadelphia—perhaps any major city—has ever seen.

Progressives, work for both economic fairness and racial justice


There’s an old labor movement saying: “The boss is the best organizer.” Nothing mobilizes people like having a threatening adversary, and so Trump is unquestionably the best organizer. He has animated an incredible surge in civic resistance and protest that is as inspiring as anything we’ve seen since the civil rights movement. 

... The candidates who are pointing a way forward are those who can talk race and class at the same time. Larry Krasner, who we believe will be Philadelphia’s next district attorney, speaks forcefully about the roles biased policing and poverty play in exacerbating mass incarceration.