Quiet Philly area elections pack a punch

Philadelphia District Attorney Elect Larry Krasner speaks at his victory party

Philadelphia District Attorney Elect Larry Krasner speaks at his victory party at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Elections have consequences, winners like to say. But some are more consequential than others, and the seemingly sleepy, off-off-year balloting yesterday could have far-reaching effects, in Philadelphia, and one of it suburban counties.

The new district attorney

Democrat Larry Krasner’s lopsided victory over Republican Beth Grossman in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s race was expected, but it’s still a major story that will continue to unfold in the coming months.

Spend time with Krasner and it’s hard not to be impressed by the depth and coherence of his critique of the city’s criminal justice system.

Police and prosecutors have over-arrested, over-charged, and over-incarcerated for decades, he says, squandering scarce public resources and wrecking families and communities rather than helping them.

He promises to turn things around, but Krasner will find that resources are limited, change is hard, and some things will surely go wrong.

Simply by changing the office’s charging practices and bail requests, he can reduce the flow of young men to the city’s prisons. But the first time a released defendant does something awful, there will be blowback.

Krasner has been conferring with prosecutors elsewhere who’ve tried similar changes, which is smart, and he’ll need to work hard at building relationships with others in the system whose cooperation he’ll need.

Should be an interesting year ahead.

New watchdog

Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart scored an easy win over Republican Mike Tomlinson to become city controller, Philadelphia’s elected financial watchdog.

That means for the first time in decades, we’ll have a controller who doesn’t come from the city’s Democratic organization. Last May, Rhynhart stunned the city’s political establishment by ousting incumbent Alan Butkovitz, a longtime politician and Democratic ward leader.

Rhynhart says Butkovitz was guided by politics, picking on his enemies and going easy on friends. Butkovitz said his political strength gave him the independence to take on vested interests for taxpayers.

Rhynhart is an insider of another kind, a senior member of the city’s finance department for the past nine years.

We’ll get to see whether an Ivy League technocrat (she has a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia) serves taxpayers better than a ward leader who sees all the angles in the city’s cutthroat political culture.

Winds of change in Delco

In the 41 years that Delaware County has had a five-member County Council, voters haven’t elected a single Democrat to the body.

Until now.

For decades, the Delco Republican organization has dominated a county that in many respects looks like Democrat country. It has the lowest median income and highest poverty rate of the four southeast Pennsylvania suburban counties, and a waterfront industrial area with blue-collar unions.

Democrats have been gaining in registration and strength in the county, and yesterday they struck a body blow to the vaunted Republican organization.

Late last night it appeared Democrats had won three county row offices — county controller, sheriff, and register of wills.

And Democrats Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek were narrowly leading Republicans Dave White and John Perfetti for the two county council seats up in this election.

If the result holds, it’s huge for Democrats, who think they can flip the county from red to blue, as Montgomery County Democrats did a few years back.

The other three seats on the Delaware County Council are up for election in two years, and Democrats think they can win not just county offices but township seats, and eventually the Seventh Congressional seat.

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