Krasner jumps into Philly DA race

    Criminal defense lawyer Larry Krasner announces his candidacy for Philadelphia district attorney. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Criminal defense lawyer Larry Krasner announces his candidacy for Philadelphia district attorney. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Defense attorney Lawrence Krasner has entered the race for Philadelphia district attorney, and he’s one candidate likely to distinguish himself from the field.

    The typical profile for an aspiring DA is a former prosecutor pushing a law and order message.

    Krasner, 55, has a background as a public defender, and is well known to progressive activists in the city.He defended protesters arrested at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia 16 years ago and at the Democratic National Convention last summer.

    At his announcement in Center City Wednesday, Krasner said the district attorney’s office needs to think not just about convictions, but justice.

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    “Justice makes you safer,” he said. “How do we achieve that? Well, No. 1, we have to ‘decarcerate.’ We have to get people out of jail.”

    The line drew applause from dozens of supporters there for the occasion.

    He said the culture in the DA’s office has made prosecutors indifferent to the rights of defendants.

    “I have heard more times than I care to count jokes around the notion that someone is actually innocent,” Krasner said. “It is also a system that has not treated victims well. They have been manipulated to press for the prosecutors’ goals rather than theirs, and very often they have not been made whole.”

    The field

    Krasner is now the fifth announced candidate to challenge incumbent District Attorney Seth Williams in the  primary.

    Williams has the advantages of incumbency and name recognition, but he’s been wounded by reports of a federal investigation into his campaign and personal finances — and the admission in August that he’d failed to report more than $160,000 in gifts on required financial disclosure forms dating back to 2010.

    The city Board of Ethics recently fined Williams $62,000 for those omissions, and found another $15,000 worth of gifts he’d never reported.

    Also in the Democratic primary are former prosecutor Joe Khan, former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, former Philadelphia Managing Director Rich Negrin, and former prosecutor Michael Untermeyer, who’s put $300,000 of his own money into his campaign.

    The busy field of challengers is considered an advantage for Williams, since the anti-incumbent vote will be divided many ways.

    “The more the merrier,” Williams said in a December interview.

    The politics

    Does Krasner have a shot?

    He’s getting in late, and at the moment there’s little sign that he has the currency that typically wins this kind of primary — money, name recognition, and backing from unions, elected officials, and ward leaders.But he brings a distinctive message, and in a crowded field, you can come out ahead with less than 50 percent.

    When I asked him if he was late getting in, he said he thought his timing was really good.


    He said he sees an appetite now for a progressive candidate.

    “You’re seeing protests in the street,” he said. “When they plan a protest, two or three times as many people as expected show up. I see a level of national concern about the loss of free speech, attacks on journalists, [and] a president who is frankly a wannabe dictator.”

    The trick is getting his message out to a primary electorate that can be hard to reach.

    But he has some time. The Democratic primary is May 16.

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