Republican DA candidate in Philly sees an opening against Krasner

     Beth Grossman is the Republican candidate for Philadelphia district attorney. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Beth Grossman is the Republican candidate for Philadelphia district attorney. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    After months of hearing Democratic candidates for Philadelphia district attorney talk about fairness for defendants, Republican candidate Beth Grossman is ready to make a different case: victims of crime matter, too.

    Grossman faces a daunting task in taking on Democratic candidate Larry Krasner in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, but she said her opponent, who has no experience as a prosecutor, will turn off a lot of people.

    “Mr. Krasner has been backed by Occupy. He’s been backed by Black Lives Matter,” Grossman said in an interview. “And there are Democrats who are not far left like that, who are saying, ‘This isn’t sitting well with me. I’m going to vote Republican for the first time. This woman has experience, she cares about public safety.'”

    Grossman, who spent 21 years in the Philadelphia DA’s office, said the race will provide a stark contrast between her experience as a prosecutor and Krasner’s “30 years as a defense attorney and making a career suing police officers for civil rights violations.”

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    Clear differences

    Krasner said throughout the campaign that Philadelphia and the nation need to put fewer defendants in jail and find ways to get those behind bars back into productive lives.

    He wants aggressive programs to divert low-level offenders into treatment and community service, and he calls for ending the cash bail system, which he says keeps people awaiting trial in jail just because they’re poor.

    Grossman agrees too many people are incarcerated, a problem she attributes to a failed war on drugs. She supports current diversion programs in the DA’s office, and she wants more help for inmates re-entering society.

    She’s not ready to embrace an end to cash bail, but she said she’d like to study the experience of New Jersey, which recently abolished the practice.

    Uncontrolled seizure?

    For years, Grossman headed the DA’s public nuisance task force, which ran the controversial civil asset-forfeiture program.That allows prosecutors to seize cars, houses, and cash allegedly connected to drug crimes, even if the owners themselves aren’t charged.

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the office went too far in taking the house of an elderly West Philadelphia woman whose son was selling drugs.

    That seizure occurred when Grossman was running the program.

    Grossman said the Supreme Court’s guidelines will be helpful in clarifying when property can and can’t be taken. The court said that before seizing a home or car, police must have strong evidence it was used in a crime and that the owner approved of its use.

    If elected, Grossman said she’ll follow the court’s more restrictive guidelines, but doesn’t believe the program was unfair.

    “The story that sometimes gets lost — and of course we have to follow the law — are those neighbors who suffer all the time by living next to a drug property,” Grossman said. “And. in many ways, [forfeiture] was a tool to really promote public safety and to reduce crime and to improve property values and just to make things safer for folks on a block.”

    Philly roots

    Grossman, 49, is a fourth-generation Philadelphian whose parents owned candy stores in Kensington and Olney. Her family moved to Huntingdon Valley when she was 4, and she graduated from Lower Moreland High School.

    After earning a political science degree at Penn State, she went to Temple Law School, where she interned at the U.S attorney’s office in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1993, and she became an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia.

    She spent 21 years in that office, then left to become chief of staff at the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.She’s now an attorney in private practice.

    Grossman said she was a registered Democrat until 2013, when she switched to the GOP after becoming disgusted with corruption among Democratic elected officials.

    Uphill climb

    Grossman’s strategy is to take a stand for public safety against a candidate she hopes many will see as too extreme.But will anyone hear her message?

    She needs to raise a few hundred thousand dollars for media buys and other campaign expenses, and it may be hard to convince even Republican donors to invest in a race where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of nearly 7-1.

    Grossman said she’ll get support from Republicans and moderate Democrats who regard Krasner as too liberal.

    Rumors have circulated that some GOP leaders would like to replace Grossman on the ballot with a converted Democrat who could appeal to Democratic voters, perhaps an African-American candidate.

    Grossman said nobody’s asked her to withdraw — and she plans to be the Republican on the ballot on the Nov. 7 election.

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