Philly DA candidates debate civil forfeiture program at LaSalle

Candidates for Philadelphia district attorney, Republican Beth Grossman (right) and Democrat Larry Krasner, debate at La Salle University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Candidates for Philadelphia district attorney, Republican Beth Grossman (right) and Democrat Larry Krasner, debate at La Salle University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s two candidates for district attorney traded verbal shots at a debate last night sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Committee of 70 at LaSalle University.

Republican Beth Grossman touted her 21 years working in the DA’s office and took aim at Democrat Larry Krasner’s 30 years as a criminal defense attorney who often defended protesters and sued the police for alleged misconduct.

“You’ve spent your career defending those who have taken the lives of people by gun violence,” Grossman told Krasner at one point. “I hate to tell you, but the role of the DA’s office is [that] you have to prosecute.”

Krasner countered that Grossman’s experience was in a DA’s office that has gone in the wrong direction for decades.

“We’ve had a radical experiment in over-arresting, over-charging, over-prosecuting, over-convicting and over-sentencing,” Krasner said. “This system has broken people, broken families and broken employment for so many young people. It’s gotten us to a system that is neither safe, nor just.”

Civil forfeiture program

The two agreed on several things, such as decriminalizing marijuana and reducing reliance on cash bail, but they differed sharply on other issues.

Krasner cited the controversial civil forfeiture program, in which the DA’s office seizes property from people suspected of benefiting from the drug trade.

“They had over 1,000 houses, 3,000 cars and over $45 million taken from them very, very often when they were not even charged with anything and for no good reason,” Krasner said. “That is corruption.”

Grossman, who headed the program for a period, said critics forget the harm a drug house can do to a neighborhood.

“It decreases property values. It creates public safety issues,” Grossman said. “Children cannot go to school safely. People and elders can’t sit on their porch and enjoy it because there is drug dealing going in and out.”

Grossman presented herself as someone who understands the need for reform, but is better positioned to achieve it.

“I’m the candidate who knows what has worked in the DA’s office, what hasn’t, and what should and must change,” she said. “And I’m the candidate who can hit the ground running in January.”

Krasner said what the office needs is an outsider and he’s the right one.

“If you want change, you need to bring a change agent,” he said. “If things aren’t working from the inside, you need to bring someone from the outside. That’s just reality.”

State of the race

The general election campaign has been far quieter than the Democratic primary, when six candidates and their allies spend more than $5 million to reach voters.

This fall Krasner and Grossman have been working crowds and going to community meetings, but haven’t engaged in media advertising.

Krasner has a big edge in party registration and a slew of endorsements from progressive groups and unions.

Gross has the support of the police and firefighters unions and the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Voters will make their choice November 7th.

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