Exclusive interview with District Attorney candidate Dan McElhatton

By Shannon McDonald

Dan McElhatton’s public office resume is almost as extensive as his ties to the Northeast. The 59-year-old candidate for District Attorney is a City Council alum, graduate of North Catholic, former Assistant District Attorney and Northwood little league coach.He spent two years working at Solly Playground, then represented that district 20 years later as a council member.

In an exclusive interview with NEastPhilly.com, Dan McElhatton talks about his connections with the Northeast and his plans for the next District Attorney.

There aren’t many candidates from the Northeast running for public office. Where abouts are you from? I was raised in Juniata and moved to Northwood. I went to Holy Innocents as a kid, then onto North Catholic, as did my three brothers, my father and my son. Then I went to Villanova and Temple Law.

How did you spend your time growing up? My brothers and I were active in the Juniata Park Boys Club. I played varsity baseball and jv basketball at North, then played American Legion baseball in college. I also worked at Solly Playground in Rhawnhurst for two years during the early ’70s. When did you make the move from Juniata to Northwood? I got married in 1971, lived in Juniata for three or four years, then moved to Northwood in 1975. My kids went to St. Martin of Tours, where my wife taught. My wife is from Holmesburg; she went to St. Dom’s and St. Hubert’s. My wife’s family still lives in same house on Rowland Avenue.

Continue reading for more on McElhatton’s ties to the Northeast and his objectives as District Attorney.

Now that you’re so active in city politics, where are you living? I live in Logan Square in Center City – I’ve been there for about six years. I still serve on the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce board, and I was a board member of Community College of Philadelphia for six years. I was chair of the board for two years until last fall. I know the significance of CCP’s role in the Northeast.

You’ve held positions in city office before. Can you walk me through the timeline of your political career? I was Assistant District Attorney from 1975 to 1978, then in private law practice until 1992, when i was sworn in as a City Council member until 1996, during which time I represented a district that included Northwood Frankford, Castor Gardens, Rhawnhurst, Bustleton and other neighborhoods. It included the old playground where I worked.

Was there something specific that got you involved? I cant say there was any one specific time, but i was fortunate enough to have experiences and see John Kennedy when I was a grammar school student in 1970. I was in high school at the time of his death — that touched me greatly in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy ran for president and was assassinated, and I felt that service to my community was something I wanted to do. It’s not what you get, it’s what you give back that counts. Even when i wasn’t in public service, I was active in civic associations, and other community things – especially when my kids were growing up. I coached their sports – baseball and a little bit of soccer. Ed Rendell has always been a friend, and when he ran for mayor in 1991, he asked me to consider running for council and I did. Serving in council was a great experience – you’re able to help a significant number of people.  At that time, we had significant budget issues in the city and it was a crisis situation – we all responded collaboratively and pulled the city forward Do you have any specific goals or plans for yourself if elected? The principals on which I’m running are pretty fundamental – safety first, trust in the systems and cooperation and collaboration with the community.  I just recently proposed a violent-crime strike force – that’s an extensive outline about what we can do. We have to prosecute municipal corruption, or people will lose faith in system. Collaboration with community means reaching out and listening. We re-energized town watch programs in 1993 and 1994 by creating a system that gave the community money for the equipment they needed.

You’ve called for and encouraged your opponents to participate in regional debates to hear from citizens. What kind of reaction have you gotten to that? For the most part, we’ve had a number of forums, but no real debates – I’m still looking forward to that. There are some scheduled in mid-April and one in May. I’m hoping for enough opportunities to exchange ideas. Most of the forums have been answering moderated questions with no chance to challenge one another back and forth.

What do you think people are looking for in terms of the criminal justice system? I think they’re looking to have the system be responsive to their needs, whether as a victim or witnesses, and looking for cooperation among all different elements. If they’re not cooperating, all the citizens suffer. We need to work more stringently toward that.

Is there anything specific you’d like to change about the role the D.A. currently plays? I think there is. I would put a greater emphasis on the charging function. When someone is arrested right now, the police send paperwork to law clerks at the District Attorney’s office, and they add charges. The D.A. tries to put as many charges on as possible, which sometimes results in charges being dismissed. We need more experienced district attorneys reviewing cases earlier. What is your hope for the new D.A. – whoever ends up beign eleced? My hope is that they will be able to work with the Mayor and Council to move the city forward to where it needs to be as a world class city, and the district attorney is an important component of that.

The Democratic Primary for the District Attorney and other public offices is Tuesday, May 19. Dan McElhatton will run against Dan McCaffery, Brian Grady and Michael Turner. The winner will face the lone republican candidate, Michael Untermeyer, in the November general election.

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