Tariq El-Shabazz announces candidacy to be Philly’s next DA

 Tariq El-Shabazz announces his campaign for Philadelphia District Attorney.  (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

Tariq El-Shabazz announces his campaign for Philadelphia District Attorney. (Bobby Allyn/WHYY)

Tariq El-Shabazz, the former first deputy in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, launched a campaign on Monday to succeed his one-time boss, Seth Williams, who is not running for a third term.

The entrance of El-Shabazz into the DA’s race makes him the sixth Democratic candidate vying to be the city’s next top prosecutor.

El-Shabazz spent more than two decades as a defense attorney before a recent seven-month stint as Williams’ top deputy.

El-Shabazz told supporters gathered at a restaurant in a Chestnut Hill shopping center that he wants to eliminate cash bail for non-violent offenders, reform the probation system and combat mass incarceration.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“There are many other candidates trying to fool you by throwing around all these things, and attacking mass incarceration, but they never gave you an idea of how to do it,” El-Shabazz said.

He grew frustrated when asked repeatedly by reporters about critics who say the nearly $200,000 in tax debt he owes shows he’s not fit to lead the DA’s Office. His doubters say that debt highlights a lack of regard for the law, but El-Shabazz insists his civil proceedings do not stand in the way of his ability to be a fair prosecutor.

“The purpose of this here is not to indicate that I was a perfect businessman, or anything like that. It’s just to indicate to you that I’m the perfect candidate for District Attorney,” said El-Shabazz.

“There’s no doubt about it. I never ran from it. It’s a debt that was based on honesty, no doubt about it,” he said. “I didn’t go around corners to try to skim anyone. But it’s a real debt, one that is being handled.”

El-Shabazz said he is working on a settlement to resolve the outstanding tax debt he owes to the city, state and federal government.

“So I have tax debt. I’m handling it,” said El-Shabazz, who is 53. “And I will continue to handle it. But it will not in any way shape or form prevent me from doing what I need to do for the citizens of Philadelphia as it relates to protecting their safety and ensuring their justice.”

El-Shabazz is the only black candidate in the race. He is also Muslim. On Monday, he said he does not intend to make the race about identity politics, but about reforming the system from within.

“Don’t get tricked. Run away from him, African-American elected officials, because he has baggage, or he has issues,'” said El-Shabbaz, mocking those who have tried to emphasize Shabazz’s race or tax struggles. “Integrity, principle. discipline, character, understanding of the law exist with the man you see standing here.”

El-Shabazz’s former boss, Seth Williams has been beset with controversies in recent months, including an investigation by the FBI and the IRS into his personal and campaign finances.

Nonetheless, El-Shabazz says his ties to Williams should not concern voters.

“Please do not try to put spillage on Tariq Karim El-Shabazz by the failings of Seth Williams,” he said. “We are two different people.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal