Though many don’t know it, Philadelphia voters will be choosing a District Attorney at the polls November 5th.
Democratic incumbent Seth Williams and Republican challenger Danny Alvarez met Thursday for their one and only debate, moderated by Larry Kane at the Comcast studios (you can see it Sunday night on the Comcast Network at 9:30, or next Wednesday. Oct. 23, at 5:30).
It was a spirited exchange. Alvarez called Williams a “union buster” who’s ignored public corruption, and Williams said Alvarez had been a “sub-par” prosecutor who’d been demoted for poor performance.
The race so far has been a quiet, lop-sided affair. Williams has the advantage of incumbency, name recognition, and a six-to-one advantage in party registration. Alvarez is a political newcomeer who hasn’t raised enough money to advertise and has spent his time knocking on doors and meeting voters wherever he can.
But Alvarez has the spirit of the newly-united and energized Philadelphia GOP, whose new activists believe you won’t build the party unless you recruit committed candidates and contest offices, even in cases where the odds seem hopeless.
Williams is a career prosecutor who won the DA’s office four years ago. Alvarez is a 35-year old lawyer who spent eight years as a prosecutor. In the debate, he repeatedly argued that one party Democratic rule in Philadelphia has bred corruption which drains needed resources from the fight against crime.
“It really all starts with public corruption and the fact that nothing has been done with public corruption,” Alvarez said. “Every single dime that is wasted in municipal corruption is a dime that is converted to a bullet out on our streets.”
Williams countered that he’s assembled a crack special investigations unit that is bringing corruption cases to a grand jury. But he said, there’s more to the job than that.
“When I talk to Philadelphians on the street, yeah, they’re concerned about corruption, and the excessive use of force by police officers, and we’re investigating that more than ever before,” Williams said. “But what people talk about is gun violence. They talk about witnesses being intimidated. They talk about their children being afraid to play at the playground. So that is our priority.”
The debate took a strange turn when Williams said that Alvarez had been a “sub-par assistant DA” when he was at the District Attorney’s office. He said Alvarez spent two years at Municipal Court, when most young prosecutors move out of there in a year, and he said he was later demoted and transferred because of poor performance.”
Williams was DA when Alvarez’s spent his last year and a half at the office.
“All people said about him was he walked around reading the Federalist papers, all the time when he should have had his case work with him, ” Williams said after the debate.
Alvarez said Williams administration had transferred him when he was “starting a union.”
“They did this to me at the very time I started to get union cards signed,” Alvarez said.
Williams said he’d never even heard of Alvarez’s organizing activities, and they had nothing to do with his transfer.
Asked afterward who might corroborate his organizing activity, Alvarez referred reporters to labor attorney Lance Geren, who confirmed that Alvarez and “three or four” other attorneys had met with him for advice on forming an independent union.
I asked Geren if Alvarez had been transferred in retaliation for his activities, and he said Alvarez had said that to him at the time, but he didn’t have any independent knowledge of the transfer. When I asked if he’d filed an unfair labor practice charge to challenge the transfer, Geren said it was considered, but that the attorneys soon decided to abandon the effort.