Race to watch: Pa.’s crowded primary election for attorney general

With no incumbent around, five Democrats and two Republicans are vying to be Pennsylvania's next attorney general.

Keir Bradford-Grey

Democratic candidate for Pa. Attorney General Keir Bradford-Grey debates other candidates at the Philadelphia Public Health Management Corporation’s debate on April 4, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Several row offices are up for election in 2024 — attorney general, auditor general and treasurer. In the race for attorney general, seven candidates are on the ballot for Pennsylvania’s primary election. Incumbent Democratic Michelle Henry is not running to retain the office, but five Democrats and two Republicans are in the fray to be Pennsylvania’s next attorney general. Forward Party candidate Eric Settle has also entered the race, however, there is no guarantee he ends up on the ballot in November.

The victors of each primary will face each other in the general election.

History of the office

The attorney general is the highest-ranking law enforcement official in Pennsylvania. While the position existed as early as 1643 in the colony of New Sweden, it later became enshrined in the state constitution in 1776. Prior to 1980, the office was an appointed position.

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Tasked with prosecuting organized crime and public corruption, the attorney general represents the Commonwealth in legal battles and leads statewide and multi-county investigating grand juries, among a laundry list of other duties. The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General employs hundreds of attorneys, investigators and other staff.

Democratic Attorney General Michelle Henry currently holds the office. Gov. Josh Shapiro tapped Henry to finish out his second term after he became governor in 2022.

Democratic candidate Keir Bradford-Grey

Keir Bradford-Grey
Democratic candidate for Pa. Attorney General Keir Bradford-Grey debates other candidates at the Philadelphia Public Health Management Corporation’s debate on April 4, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Keir Bradford-Grey is a partner at the Philadelphia-based Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP. She litigates white-collar crimes, government investigations and criminal defense. She is also the chairperson of the firm’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee.

Before her most recent stint in the private sector, the Ohio Northern University law school alumna started off as an assistant public defender in 1999 at the Defenders Association of Philadelphia.

Bradford-Grey spent eight years in the state’s largest public defender’s office before heading south to become an assistant federal defender at the Delaware Federal Defender’s Office. She served in that role for five years before returning closer to Philadelphia.

Then-Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro tapped her to be the county’s first Black chief public defender in 2012, where she launched weekly expungement clinics. Three years later, Bradford-Grey became the chief defender for the Defender Association of Philadelphia. There, she managed a staff of roughly 500 people and a $50 million budget.

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During her tenure, she led the rollout of Participatory Defense Hubs, which helps people charged with crimes advocate for themselves, and spearheaded its Pre-Entry Initiative. Her office filed a petition with the state to end “unlawful” probation detainers. After nearly six years, Bradford-Grey left in 2021 to take her current role at Montgomery McCracken.

Her time as a public servant was not without its scars. In 2017, a whistleblower lawsuit alleged Bradford-Grey demoted an attorney for reporting a colleague for practicing law while suspended.

Bradford-Grey has focused her attorney general campaign on economic justice, fighting against threats to abortion rights and curtailing gun violence by holding firearm distributors to account.

“For its next Attorney General, Pennsylvania needs someone who knows how to use the law to create opportunities and protect all communities,” Bradford-Grey wrote in her Ballotpedia Candidate Connection survey. “I have done that. We need an Attorney General who understands the cares and concerns of working people. I know what it feels like to be vulnerable to more powerful interests — and how to fight for our rights.”

If elected, Bradford-Grey would be Pennsylvania’s first Black attorney, and its first attorney general, with a primary background in public defense.

Democratic candidate Eugene DePasquale

Eugene DePasquale speaking at a podium
Democratic attorney general candidate Eugene DePasquale seen in the Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Commonwealth Media Services)

Eugene DePasquale is a graduate of Widener University Commonwealth Law School and got his start in 2002 working as the director for the City of York Department of Economic Development. From 2003 to 2006, he worked as the deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In 2020, DePasquale made an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry from his Congressional seat.

DePasquale is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the Widener University Commonwealth Law School. Before his foray into higher education, he made a name for himself as Pennsylvania’s “eccentric” auditor general, transforming a relatively quiet state office into a newsmaker.

As the chief fiscal watchdog, DePasquale got started early. On his first day in office in 2013, he launched an audit into safe drinking water. He later took aim at the shale gas industry and the state Department of Environmental Protection’s inability to oversee it.

Under his leadership, publicly announced audits from Harrisburg soon became commonplace. From a query looking into a reduced backlog in rape kits to the discovery of the state’s fuel tax being used to fund state police, DePasquale also took aim at his own party and criticized former Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic-era business shutdown waiver program.

In 2016, he uncovered the state child abuse hotline’s failure to answer calls — 58,000 of them between 2014 and 2016. In 2019, DePasquale found officials in 18 counties accepted gifts and trips from voting machine vendors.

Prior to his two terms as the auditor general, DePasquale served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2007 to 2013. His co-sponsored bills that included a ban on texting while driving and a revision of open records law.

As part of his campaign for attorney general, DePasquale is prioritizing abortion rights, democracy, consumer protections, public corruption, the environment and the enshrinement of LGBTQ rights.

“As attorney general, I will take on corrupt behavior by elected and appointed officials, government employees, and those doing business with city, state and federal government,” DePasquale said. “In my previous role as auditor general I uncovered corruption in multiple government agencies, stopping it at the source. I will always stand for what is right and work to preserve government integrity.”

Democratic candidate Joe Khan

Joe Khan poses for a portrait
Democratic attorney general candidate Joe Khan. (Campaign website)

Since May 2023, Joe Khan has worked as a legal partner at Curtin & Heefner LLP, specializing in litigation and public sector law.

But for most of his career, Khan has worked in the public sector. From 2000 to 2006, he was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia’s prosecutor’s office on the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit. In 2006, Khan was tapped by the United States Attorney’s Office to work in its Corruption, Tax and Civil Rights Unit.

Khan’s unit made headlines prosecuting corruption and conspiracy cases in Allentown and Reading. In 2017, Khan made an unsuccessful run for Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office, placing second to Larry Krasner.

From 2020 to 2023, Khan served as the Bucks County Solicitor, where he joined a national lawsuit against social media companies for their role in the youth mental health crisis, and he defended an anti-fracking crusade along the Delaware River.

His office, alongside the county commissioners and district attorney, filed a lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers.

Khan got his undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College and his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. His brother is state Rep. Tarik Khan.

In his campaign for state attorney general, Khan has pledged to protect abortion rights, enact a 67-county strategy for public safety, establish a housing justice unit and enforce Pennsylvania’s environmental laws.

“Whether it is threats to public safety, rapidly evolving technology, or existential threats to our environment and democracy, Pennsylvania’s next Attorney General will need to have a plan to take action on Day One against the many challenges we face,” Khan’s campaign site said. “Continuing a 23-year legal career protecting Pennsylvanians from crime, corruption, and attacks on our rights, Joe is the battle-tested Democrat who will be ready to defend our democracy as Attorney General — just as he did as Bucks County Solicitor during the 2020 election.”

Democratic candidate Jared Solomon

Jared Solomon
Democratic candidate for Pa. Attorney General Jared Solomon debates other candidates at the Philadelphia Public Health Management Corporation’s debate on April 4, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jared Solomon has been a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2017. The Northeast Philadelphia legislator is chair of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee in Harrisburg.

Solomon previously served on the House State Government Committee, Urban Affairs Committee and House Judiciary Committee.

Like Khan, Solomon attended college at Swarthmore. He got his law degree in 2006 from Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law.

The Army Reserve JAG–veteran first entered politics as a field director for U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak’s 2006 Congressional campaign. He later served as legal director for Sestak’s 2010 campaign.

From 2008 to 2011, Solomon has also worked in the private sector at Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C., and in 2016 he worked at Spector Gadon & Rosen, P.C. In his neighborhood, Solomon earned a reputation as a community activist — founding Take Back Your Neighborhood.

As a relatively young legislator, Solomon has advocated for term limits, open primaries and recall elections.

He also joined the Philadelphia Platform which called for an improved workforce development program, more aid to small businesses and neighborhoods, criminal justice reform and better infrastructure.

Solomon also served as the Democratic impeachment manager in the trial over Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Solomon voted against the impeachment.

As part of his election campaign for attorney general, Solomon is vowing to protect abortion rights, strengthen labor, address consumer protection, tackle predatory housing businesses, fight anti-semitism — in the form of a statewide task force — and take on public corruption.

“For too long, Pennsylvanians have had to rely on the Department of Justice to prosecute public corruption in our state. As Attorney General, Jared will take the lead in holding accountable those who abuse the public trust,” Solomon’s campaign website said. “The true work of government is improving the lives of the people it represents. When public officials use their position to improve their own lives at the expense of the public, Jared will pursue them with the full force of his office.”

Democratic candidate Jack Stollsteimer

Jack Stollsteimer headshot
Democratic attorney general candidate Jack Stollsteimer. (Campaign website)

Delaware County voters elected Jack Stollsteimer to be their district attorney in 2019 as part of a historic blue wave, making him the first Democrat to ever hold the office.

The Haverford Township resident has helped slash the incarcerated population at the county prison while reducing the city of Chester’s gun homicide rate through the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods.

Stollsteimer, alongside county and federal elected officials, assisted the county in exploring options for a mobile mental health crisis unit. In a reset of conservative policies, Stollsteimer helped push the county to lower its historically high bail retention fees. In the classroom, he worked with education officials to launch the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools initiative.

He graduated from Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in 2000 and took a job as an assistant district attorney at the Delaware County prosecutor’s office. In 2002, Stollsteimer joined the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant attorney, where he spearheaded a gun violence taskforce.

Nearly five years later, former Gov. Ed Rendell appointed Stollsteimer as the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Advocate. In 2009, Stollsteimer joined the Pennsylvania Treasury Department as its deputy chief counsel.

In 2013, Stollsteimer worked in the private sector as the managing director for Verus Financial. His tenure ended when he won his bid for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office.

Stollsteimer rode the blue wave pushing for criminal justice reform, most notably calling for the deprivatization of George W. Hill Correctional Facility. While he and the County Council accomplished that goal, progressive allies of Stollsteimer felt left behind — springing calls for him to “Hit the road, Jack.” From his handling of a police shooting of an 8-year-old girl to his failure to establish a conviction integrity unit, protesters have knocked Stollsteimer’s record as lackluster. Critics have called his performance into question in an era of “21st-century policing.”

In his bid for state attorney general, Stollsteimer is committing to “improvements in community safety, criminal justice policy, civil and reproductive rights, and environmental justice.”

In his campaign video, he highlighted his work in the city of Chester and the rest of Delaware County and said, “As attorney general, I’ll keep our communities safer, our criminal justice system farer and I’ll always protect abortion rights.”

Republican candidate Dave Sunday

Dave Sunday headshot
Republican attorney general candidate Dave Sunday (Campaign website)

Dave Sunday, the York County district attorney, has been in office since 2018. His office prosecutes about 9,000 cases annually.

Sunday joined the Navy at 18. After returning from service, he attended Penn State Harrisburg and received a degree in finance. He worked as a corporate analyst at UPS, while getting a law degree at Widener Law School.

After law school, Sunday worked as a law clerk in the York County Court of Common Pleas.

Having spent a vast majority of his career in York County, he worked his way up to leading litigation within the district attorney’s office. There, he reoriented the York County Drug Task Force and equipped police offices with naloxone.

Sunday was also appointed as a special assistant U.S. attorney for Pennsylvania’s federal court to help prosecute gang cases. He was a lead prosecutor on Operation Sunrise in York, which led a massive drug sting in 2013.

In 2014, Sunday helped establish the York County Heroin Task Force, now known as the York Opioid Collaborative. He serves on its board of directors. In 2020, state House Republicans appointed Sunday to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

Sunday was the first Republican to enter the race for attorney general and he has the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

As part of his campaign, Sunday is touting his numbers as York’s top prosecutor.

“District Attorney Sunday’s collaborative approach to public safety resulted in a 30% decrease in crime during his first term; reductions in the prison population by almost 40% since its peak; a reduced supervision caseload; and a recent study conducted by IUP indicates that offenders in York have the lowest recidivism rate over a 5-year period as compared to seven other counties,” his campaign site said.

Republican candidate Craig Williams

Rep. Craig Williams
File photo: Pennsylvania state House of Representatives’ impeachment manager Rep. Craig Williams reads the articles of impeachment against Philadelphia’s Democratic district attorney, Larry Krasner, in the Senate chamber at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. Williams announced Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, that he is running for Pennsylvania’s attorney general. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Craig Williams has served in the state House, representing the 160th District in Delaware and Chester counties, since his election in 2020. The United States Marine Corps veteran works on a handful of committees in the General Assembly, including Consumer Protection, Human Services and Veteran Affairs. He holds three subcommittee chair positions.

During the height of the pandemic, Williams supported increasing monetary assistance to hospitals, nursing homes, vaccine development and virus testing.

Locally, Williams has categorized himself as a supporter of a grassroots effort to block Aqua Pennsylvania from purchasing the Chester Water Authority.

His district — like the rest of Philadelphia’s collar counties — has grown increasingly blue.  Williams led the efforts to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

His Democratic opponent in his previous state house bid attacked his positions on a number of issues, including his record on abortion and his vote against prohibiting the sale or possession of an assault weapon for individuals under the age of 21. Williams also led the efforts to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Prior to his time in Harrisburg, Williams made his name as a Marine, flying 56 combat missions during the Gulf War. He attended law school at the University of Florida and became the top prosecutor at a Marine base.

Under the Bush Administration, he worked as deputy legal counsel for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also serving as prosecutor on the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

He later served as a federal attorney as well as a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2008, he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress against former Rep. Joe Sestak. From 2009 to 2020, WIlliams worked as assistant general counsel for the energy company PECO.

In his campaign video “It’s A Violent World,” Williams said his campaign has the remedy. While he doesn’t have the nomination of his party, Williams said that he has a track record of winning in a blue county.

“I win because I’m tenacious. I fight, persevere and win — like a Marine. Now, more than ever, Republicans need a winner in the attorney general’s office,” Williams said.

Williams and Sunday have contrasted on criminal justice reform and Williams’ pursuit of Krasner.

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