Philadelphia district attorney hopeful Larry Krasner rolled through Reading Terminal Market sporting his usual fitted suit and horn-rimmed glasses. Before he sat down to have his shoes shined, an onlooker shouted out, “You ready for tomorrow?”
“We’re getting ready for tomorrow,” he cracked.
The civil rights lawyer seen as an anti-establishment candidate was not the only one making a final day campaign push.
Beth Grossman, a career prosecutor and former Democrat who is running as the Republican candidate, made the rounds on local radio shows and unleashed a team of volunteers to spread the word about her platform emphasizing victim advocacy and keeping neighborhoods safe, traditional talking points for candidates for district attorney.
“You cannot approach that office with a complete slash-and-burn approach by burning it down and building it up,” Grossman said on Monday. “I’d hate to tell you, but over the last several years, a lot of things in the office are working,” she said, specifically citing enhanced diversion programs that have kept low-level offenders out of jail.
Meanwhile, Krasner has spent decades representing protesters and has taken dozens of cops to court over alleged abuse. No surprise, then, that his focus is on upending the status quo in the DA’s office.
“The first and most important priority is culture change,” Krasner said. “It is to change the understanding of criminal justice as being about prevention, as opposed to being about the harshest forms of punishment possible.”
Krasner talks about how poverty has been criminalized, since many low-income neighborhoods that struggle with violent crime rates are heavily policed. He wants to scrap the cash bail system and push for additional reforms in how pedestrians are stopped and frisked by officers. Police have already undergone new training since the stop-and-frisk program has been under the supervision of a federal judge but Krasner has promised to go even further and not pursue charges that involve unlawful stops.
Krasner has also vowed to never seek the death penalty.
Grossman says her focus will be weeding out bad guys from crime-ridden neighborhoods, overhauling the cash bail system — but less extensively than Krasner hopes for — and reserving her right to seek the death penalty in the most heinous cases.
“Philadelphians want someone who is concerned about neighborhoods, and they want someone who is concerned about victims and survivors of crime,” Grossman said.
Democrat has voter edge, Republican has police backing
Grossman faces long odds. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Philadelphia nearly 7-1. Yet she has the support of the city’s largest police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. And some prosecutors in the district attorney’s office have publicly fretted that Krasner will be disruptive and cause turmoil in a time when the office needs a steady hand after their last boss was convicted of bribery and is now serving a federal prison sentence.
“I would be willing to bet,” Krasner told reporters Monday, “I got as many cops voting for me as Beth Grossman does.”
As many campaign observers have noted, hearing Krasner discuss his policy goals might make a listener assume he is running to be public defender, not district attorney. But it’s that outsider status that helped galvanize many young progressives to the polls during the May primary, where he elbowed out six competitors, most of whom had some past experience prosecuting crime. To Krasner and his backers, his lack of time inside the district attorney’s office is what makes him so qualified.
“We have been dealing with a system in which it was all about order, and that meant locking everybody up, as opposed to following constitutional requirements and being balanced,” Krasner said.
Another major component of Krasner’s primary victory was support from financier George Soros, who has bankrolled candidates opposed to the death penalty in district attorney races across the country. The billionaire spent $1.7 million to help Krasner win the primary, money that became a target for critics, including his general election opponent.
“When someone’s vast wealth overshadows six other candidates because of advertising,” Grossman said, “that can have a negative quelling effect on democracy.”
On the other hand, many national criminal justice reformers say the significance of a Krasner victory could reverberate across the country.
“Larry Krasner is the most progressive candidate we’ve seen nationwide,” said Josie Duffy Rice with the Fair Punishment Project. “If he wins, it’s a signal to other cities and other towns and other jurisdictions across America that you can be a different kind of DA, that you don’t have to run on a tough-on-crime platform.”
WHYY audio news director Eugene Sonn contributed to this report.