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May 16, 2017

It's Primary Day in Pennsylvania: Here's a five-minute guide

Today is Primary Day in Pennsylvania.

Polls are open until 8 p.m. Anybody in line by that time must be allowed to vote. You can find your polling place here. Report issues or problems encountered at the polling place to the Philadelphia County Board of Elections at 215-686-1590.

The election may lack many high-interest races, but the battle between seven Democrats for the nomination for Philadelphia district attorney is the race of the day.

Typical interest in the election of a new city district attorney is heightened this go-around in the aftermath of current district attorney Seth Williams being indicted on corruption charges. The race looking like a toss-up.

Other concerns on the ballot in Philadelphia include the race for city controller, judicial races and two ballot questions.

There are no statewide contests, except for some judicial races.

As you head out to vote, here's a rundown of what to expect:


Most of the seven Democrats seeking the party's nomination for district attorney hold similar views. They want to reform civil forfeiture and cash bail policies, reduce incarceration rates and strengthen diversionary programs. And they want to restore integrity to the office following the indictment of the current district attorney, Seth Williams, who faces an array of federal corruption charges.

The winner of the Democratic primary will square off against the lone Republican — Beth Grossman — in November.

Teresa Carr Deni

Deni, 69, served as a judge on the Philadelphia Municipal Court for 21 years. She previously has worked as a defense attorney and held legal positions in the City Solicitor's Office and other municipal offices.

Deni wants to revamp civil forfeiture policies and lower mass incarceration. She supports restorative justice in domestic violence courts, a practice that aims to reconcile perpetrators and victims. She also wants to increase the city's fine for possession of a small amount of marijuana to an amount consistent with open-container alcohol citations.

Deni has been criticized for a 2007 decision to reduce charges against a man accused of raping a prostitute. Instead of charging the defendant with rape, she lowered his charge to theft of services. She told The Inquirer that she would rule differently now.

Deni earned her law degree from Temple University.

Tariq El-Shabazz

El-Shabazz, 53, spent seven months as the first deputy to Williams. He was a defense attorney for more than 20 years and an assistant district attorney from 1988 to 1993. He also has been a legal commentator.

El-Shabazz has pushed for diversionary programs for all non-violent offenders, eliminating cash bail for nonviolent offenders and reforming the probation and parole system.

Former clients have accused El-Shabazz of negligence, claiming that he missed court dates and filing deadlines. He has denied those accusations, claiming the reporter who broke the story acted with racist motivations. He also has faced a series of tax liens, totaling nearly $200,000, since 2001.

El-Shabazz graduated from the University of Baltimore Law Center.

Joe Khan

Khan, 53, is a career prosecutor, serving six years as an assistant district attorney and another 10 as an assistant U.S. attorney. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Khan claims he would restore integrity to the District Attorney's Office by ensuring all employees abide by ethical standards and by prioritizing professional development. He seeks to end civil forfeiture policies and eliminate bail for nonviolent offenders.

Khan, the first to declare his candidacy, is endorsed by Ed Rendell.

Khan graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was taught by former President Barack Obama.

Lawrence Krasner

Krasner, 56, has worked as a private defense attorney since 1993, handling civil rights cases and defending various political activists, including members of Black Lives Matter. Before that, he served as a public defender for six years.

Krasner has touted his progressive beliefs, claiming he will end mass incarceration by refusing to prosecute insufficient cases, freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners and treating addiction as an illness rather than a crime. He says he will not pursue death sentences and will end civil asset forfeiture.

Krasner defended LeSean McCoy when the former Eagle was accused of assaulting off-duty police officers at a Philly nightclub. He also successfully defended six narcotics officers in a federal corruption case.

Krasner, who has gained the support of a political action committee linked to billionaire George Soros, owns a law degree from Stanford University. He is married to Court of Common Pleas Judge Lisa M. Rau.

Rich Negrin

Negrin served as the city's managing director under former Mayor Michael Nutter. He previously was a prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office, where he rose to the Major Trials Unit.

Negrin has touted his experience in the managing director's office, where he helped oversee a $5.5 billion budget. Like many of his opponents, Negrin favors eliminating cash bail for nonviolent offenders, revamping civil forfeiture policies and boosting re-entry programs.

Negrin has gained the support of the local Fraternal Order of Police, which had long criticized Williams for declining to bring charges in a number of cases, including the McCoy case. Earlier this year, the FOP posted a billboard in Northeast Philly reading "HELP WANTED; NEW PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY."

As a teenager, Negrin witnessed his father's murder and later testified in the trial. He received his law degree from Rutgers Law School.

Jack O'Neill

O'Neill, 35, is a private attorney who represents individuals in both civil and criminal cases. He previously spent 10 years in the District Attorney's Office, where he handled homicide and rape cases.

The youngest of the candidates, O'Neill wants to expand diversionary programs for noviolent offenders, offering treatment and jobs instead of prison time. He aims to expand Focused Deterrence, a community initiative that has reduced group-related homicides in South Philly.

O'Neill has been backed by labor groups and the Building a Better Pennsylvania political action committee, which was started by IBEW Local 98 and backed Jim Kenney's mayoral campaign two years ago.

O'Neill earned his law degree from Florida State University.

Michael Untermeyer

Untermeyer, 66, is both a real estate developer and an attorney. He formerly served as an assistant district attorney and worked in the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office from 1990 to 2001. He unsuccessfully ran for district attorney in 2009 and 2011 – as a Republican.

Now running as a Democrat, Untermeyer wants to eliminate cash bail, reform civil asset forfeiture and offer low-level offenders community-based service in place of prosecution. He also wants to strengthen the Conviction Integrity Unit, which works to overturn wrongful convictions.

Untermeyer has funded his own campaign, sinking nearly $1 million into it. That helped him become the first candidate to run television ads.

Untermeyer earned his law degree from Rutgers University-Camden.

Beth Grossman

Grossman, the lone Republican, began serving as the chief of staff at the Department of Licenses and Inspection in 2015. She previously spent 21 years working in the district attorney's office, where she rose to head the Public Nuisance Task Force.

Grossman, a former Democrat, says she is running as a Republican to free Philadelphia from the one-party rule and the corruption she claims it inevitably creates. She supports civil asset forfeiture, saying it has helped improve the quality of life. She also supports cash bail, but wants to see people treated fairly.

Grossman earned her law degree from Temple University.


Incumbent Democratic controller Alan Butkovitz faces a challenge from well-known City Hall stalwart Rebecca Rhynhart.

Butkovitz is seeking his fourth four-year term as the city's chief fiscal watchdog, focusing on exposing waste, fraud and mismanagement in city government. A resident of Northeast Philadelphia, he says he has identified more than $800 million in potential revenues and savings for the city.

Before stepping down to run her campaign, Rhynhart was chief administrative officer under Mayor Jim Kenney and previously city treasurer and budget director under former Mayor Michael Nutter. According to her campaign website, she has three priorities: spend taxpayer dollars more efficiently and effectively as a way to save millions of dollars annually, increase transparency of city government by making data public and improve the performance of the city's pension fund investments.


Twenty-seven Democrats are seeking election to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which currently comprises 90 judges in three divisions: trial, family court and orphans' court. Terms are for 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for up to nine candidates in the primary on May 16.

The Philadelphia Bar Association Commission provides judicial selection and retention ratings for the 2017 primary candidates.

The Democratic candidates are Wendi BarishTerri M. BookerLawrence J. Bozzelli, Deborah CantyDeborah CianfraniLucretia C. ClemonsMark B. CohenDavid ConroyLeonard DeutchmanVincent FurlongLeon GoodmanShanese JohnsonVikki KristianssonJohn MacorettaRania Major, Jon Marshall, Brian McLaughlin, Vincent MelchiorreMark J. Moore, Danyl S. PattersonCrystal B. Powell, Bill Rice, Jennifer SchultzZac ShafferHenry McGregor SiasDaniel R. Sulman and Stella Tsai.

Furlong is running in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.

Six Democrats are seeking election to Philadelphia Municipal Court, which has 25 judges. Terms are for 6 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75. Registered Democrats can vote for up to two candidates in the primary on May 16.

The Democratic candidates are Marissa BrumbachJon Marshall, Bill Rice, Sherman ToppinGeorge Twardy and Matt Wolf.

 There are no Republican candidates running.


All Philadelphia voters are eligible to vote on two proposed amendments to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter. They concern best value procurement for certain city contracts and the proposed creation of a 21-member commission to coordinate public and private redevelopment efforts. To pass, they must be approved by a simple majority (more than 50 percent) of city voters.


Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to allow for the award of certain contracts based on best value to the City?

According to the city:

This proposed amendment would allow the City's Procurement Commissioner to award some contracts based on the overall "best value" to the City, rather than based only on dollars. In other words, the City would be allowed to choose a responsible business based on more than just price.
Currently, when the City buys things like equipment or construction services, the Home Rule Charter requires the City to choose the responsible business that offers the lowest price. Similarly, when the City allows a private business to operate on City property, the Charter usually requires the City to choose the responsible business that offers the City the highest payment.

This amendment would allow the City to use "best value" in awarding contracts under certain circumstances. For example, a City department might need to find a business to perform complicated maintenance services. If the Procurement Commissioner determines that there are unique aspects of the
purchase that makes price not the best predictor of value, the City can make the purchase based on "best value," rather than price alone.

"Best value" evaluation criteria could include things like a business’s past performance on similar work, including the quality of the services or products delivered by the business; or its ability to meet diversity goals; as well as price. These "evaluation criteria" would be listed in regulations, as well as included in
advertisements (which are used for contracts worth more than $32,000). All "best value" purchases would be subject to the same rules as apply to purchases of professional services.


Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for the creation of a Philadelphia Community Reinvestment Commission to be charged with recommending coordinated community reinvestment strategies for the City of Philadelphia by identifying opportunities for public, private, and philanthropic entities to collaborate and leverage their resources for the public good?

According to the city:

This proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter would establish a new Commission, the Philadelphia Community Reinvestment Commission. The Commission would be composed of 21 members: 12 members appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by Council; three Councilmembers, selected by Council; the Council President; and five additional City officials, by virtue of the positions in City government they hold.

The Commission would develop and recommend to the Mayor and Council coordinated community reinvestment strategies to leverage private, public and philanthropic resources for the public good . The Commission would be authorized to establish committees comprised of members and others selected by the Commission, to assist in executing its mission.


The Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Commission provides judicial selection and retention ratings for the 2017 primary candidates.


Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for up to four Supreme Court candidates in the primary.  Terms are for 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75.

Five Republicans – Emil GiordanoWade Kagarise, Mary Murray, Paula Patrick and Craig Stedman – and five Democrats – Bill CayeDebra KunselmanMaria McLaughlinGeoffrey Moulton Jr. and Carolyn Nichols – are on the ballot.


Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for up to two Commonwealth Court candidates in the primary. Terms are for 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75.

Six Democrats – Bryan BarbinTimothy BarryEllen CeislerIrene McLaughlin ClarkJoseph Cosgrove and Todd Eagan – and two Republicans – Christine Fizzano Cannon and Paul Lally – are on the ballot.


Registered Democrats and Republicans can vote for up to one Supreme Court candidate in the primary. Terms are for 10 years and the mandatory retirement age is 75.

Republican Sallie Updyke Mundy, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in June 2016 to fill a vacancy, are not contested and will face off in November against Democrat Dwayne Woodruff, an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge who presides over family and juvenile matters.


Polls in Pennsylvania are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Anybody in line by 8 p.m. must be allowed to vote. You can find your polling place here. Report issues or problems encountered at the polling place to the Philadelphia County Board of Elections at 215-686-1590.


Like all Pennsylvanians, Philadelphians are encouraged to vote and call the D.A.'s Election Fraud Task Force at 215-686-9641, 9643 or 9644 if they experience any difficulty casting their ballot.


The forecast from the National Weather Service calls for great voting weather in the region: sunny skies, with a high near 80.