Former Philly DA candidate, Williams staffer both pursue interim district attorney job

 Joe Khan, who lost in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia district attorney, is hoping he is selected to lead the office for six months (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

Joe Khan, who lost in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia district attorney, is hoping he is selected to lead the office for six months (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY, file)

Joe Khan’s aspiration to become Philadelphia’s top prosecutor was dashed in May, but now he’s giving it another go.

Khan, who was the runner-up in the city’s Democratic primary for district attorney, sees opportunity in the vacancy left by former District Attorney Seth Williams, who resigned Thursday before being escorted to a federal prison cell as he awaits a fall sentencing hearing. 

Khan is putting his name in to the Board of Judges, a group of 88 Philadelphia judges who are now taking applications ahead of holding a vote on who will become the interim district attorney.

“This is not a political move,” Khan said. “There are probably very few people who are willing to leave their position for six months and go into an office that’s in complete crisis and try to make sense of what to do,” he said. “I’m willing to do that.” 

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Khan said former Gov. Ed Rendell first approached him with the idea and that Rendell is making calls to judges he is close to, urging them to consider Khan for the position.

Rendell also backed Khan for DA in the run up to the seven-way primary race.

Khan’s interest in becoming a stop-gap DA was first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.  

Whomever the Board of Judges picks as the interim district attorney will serve until January, when the winner of the November general election will be sworn in. Republican Beth Grossman, a former prosecutor, will face off against Democrat Larry Krasner, a longtime civil rights lawyer.

Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans in Philadelphia 7-to-1, Krasner is widely seen as the favorite.

Khan, a former assistant district attorney who also worked for a decade as a federal prosecutor, said he is “not looking” for a long-term position in the district attorney’s office.

“I’ve moved past the political contest,” Khan said. “My political campaign is over. Mr. Williams is no longer the district attorney, and we’re now getting back to the question of, ‘What’s the best way to serve the city?'”

Kathy Martin, the first assistant in the district attorney’s office, has been essentially running the office  since Williams agreed to the suspension of his law license in April.

On Monday, Martin said she too plans on applying to the Board of Judges to be appointed as the official leader of the office until the start of the new administration.

Yet Khan said his leadership is needed in order to ensure a “smooth transition” into what will likely be an office led next year by his former political rival.

“I don’t think the city is going to be reassured by being told that the Seth Williams era is over when, in fact, the top leadership remains in place,” said Khan in response to a question about what he would make of Martin if she were tapped to be the interim district attorney. 

Martin dismissed Khan’s criticism, saying she has wide support among deputies, chiefs and other senior staff in the office.

“As a professional, I am disappointed by Mr. Khan’s statements,” Martin said. “I question whose best interest Mr. Khan has at heart.”

As the posturing for the six-month gig continues, Krasner hopes to remain clear of the squabble. 

“Larry and the campaign respect that [judicial selection] process, and they are the ones that make that decision,” said Ben Waxman, a Krasner spokesman.

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