Philadelphians will choose whether to keep their progressive district attorney in a May 18 vote. Larry Krasner is the Soros candidate, the progressive, and the incumbent; he has spent the last three and a half years radically changing his office and Philadelphia. This election has emerged as a referendum on Mr. Krasner’s first term in office rather than a choice between Krasner and his primary opponent, Carlos Vega.
Philadelphia generally chooses its political leaders in primary elections, as registered Democrats outnumber Republicans seven-to-one. That’s true for the district attorney’s office, which has seen exactly one Republican DA in the last 47 years, and he was elected in the 1980s. Who wins the Democrat primary will control who wins the final vote in November and whether the city will continue its course with a progressive prosecutor. The choice couldn’t be starker.
Thin Blue Line
PBS is currently broadcasting a series called Philly DA, and it documents, with extraordinary access, Krasner’s early days as district attorney. He came into office like a bull, tearing into the bureaucracy, legacy policies, and staff to boot. His challenger, Mr. Vega, was one of the dozens of legacy personnel shown the door.
By exercising his prosecutorial discretion, the new DA effectively legalized marijuana, small amounts of cocaine, and other drugs. He also eliminated the use of bail to hold those charged with misdemeanors. Then he turned his attention to freeing the wrongly convicted and removing convicts from state supervision by taking them off the probation and parole rolls.
Krasner targeted corrupt police, though his opponent argues the offensive against police didn’t stop at the bad apples. Vega’s most steadfast support comes from the Philadelphia police union. Per The New York Times:
“Earlier this month, the police union parked a soft-serve ice cream truck outside the district attorney’s office to emphasize that Mr. Krasner had been soft on crime. In response, Mr. Krasner’s campaign released a statement of support from Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry’s.”
A Little Help from a Friend
After law school, Krasner became a criminal defense attorney and spent the next 30-plus years at the job. He also developed a specialty in civil rights law, frequently suing the city for police abuse, for instance. Only through luck and the intervention of a Hungarian billionaire could a progressive left lawyer like Krasner win the DA’s chair in Philly, a city which, though Democrat, is conservatively so – it went 80/20 for Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders, for instance.
Politicians get indicted in Philadelphia so frequently it’s beyond parody at this point. That’s what happened to Krasner’s predecessor, Seth Williams, who had the courtesy to resign his office before being indicted on bribery and extortion charges. Krasner threw his hat into the ring to replace Williams and was not considered a particularly serious challenger. Six other candidates joined him. Soon after, he stood above his rivals on a mountain of George Soros campaign cash. The hedge fund founder dropped a money bomb of $1.45 million into Krasner’s campaign just a few weeks before election day. That sealed the deal. Krasner won the primary with 38% of the vote, and the general election was just a formality.
What about Krasner’s challenger? Vega promises to keep many of the reforms Krasner has implemented, saying the chief problem with those programs has been their poor implementation. He also points to Philadelphia’s homicides. The city had 315 the year Krasner ran for office and finished 2020 with 499. This year looks set to blow that number away, as updated statistics show homicides are up 40% in 2021. Will those numbers be enough to move the needle?
It’s an off-year election, so this is a real contest between the highly motivated. Will the winner be Krasner, the reformer, or a less radical DA with strong ties to the police? In a time when relations between the people and police are being examined like never before, the results will be telling.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.