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November 07, 2017

Progressive Larry Krasner easily wins Philly's district attorney race

Longtime civil rights attorney vows to end mass incarceration

A progressive Democrat who has vowed to end mass incarceration in Philadelphia will be the city's next district attorney.

Larry Krasner defeated Republican Beth Grossman on Tuesday in an election that affirmed the electorate's desire for substantial reform to the criminal justice system.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Krasner had 147,559 votes to 50,062 for Grossman, according to unofficial tallies – a margin of nearly 50 percentage points.

The district attorney race – which came exactly two weeks after former D.A. Seth Williams was sentenced to five years in prison for corruption – was the most prominent on the city ballot. Elsewhere on the ballot, Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart easily beat Republican Mike Tomlinson to serve as city controller.

"We are looking at a record," Krasner told a crowd of 100-plus supporters who gathered at the William Way LGBT Community Center. "The first D.A. candidate, we expect, to get well over 100,000 votes. What that says, to me, is this movement is not going away."

Voter turnout stood at 20 percent, the highest percentage in a district attorney race since 1997, when 22 percent of the electorate headed to the polls. 

And it was eight percentage points higher than the last two district attorney races – despite a steady rain that extended throughout the afternoon and evening.

Krasner, 56, is a civil rights attorney known for repeatedly suing the Philadelphia Police Department and representing Occupy and Black Lives Matter protesters for free. Backed by George Soros, Krasner ran away with the Democratic primary in May.

And in a city that heavily favors Democrats, Krasner had no problem dispatching the more moderate Grossman – despite her support from Philadelphia's police union – in Tuesday's general election.

Grossman, 49, is a former Democrat who spent more than two decades serving in the D.A.'s Office, heading the Public Nuisance Task Force and the civil forfeiture unit. She also served as chief of staff in the Department of Licenses and Inspections and is now a private attorney who handles civil and criminal cases.

The D.A.'s Office handles about 75,000 cases each year with an annual budget of $38 million, employing about 600 people. Krasner will serve a four-year term and earn an annual salary of about $175,000.

Krasner said his election is a "mandate" for "transformational change" within the D.A.'s office.

"This is a story about a movement," Krasner said. "And this is a movement that is tired of seeing a system that has systematically picked on poor people – primarily black and brown poor people."

The election of the reform-minded Krasner comes after Williams pleaded guilty to a lone bribery charge in a corruption scandal in which he allegedly accepted lavish gifts for his influence and stole from his mother. He has been disbarred.

Krasner has pledged to end mass incarceration by revamping cash bail, treating addiction as an illness and mitigating prosecutions of minor cases. He seeks to reform civil asset forfeiture policies and review prior convictions to ensure wrongfully-convicted people walk free.

Additionally, Krasner opposes the death penalty and supports safe heroin injection sites.

Mayor Jim Kenney congratulated Krasner on his victory, saying he "looks forward" to work with him to make the criminal justice system more equitable and effective.

"While we've reduced our incarcerated population by nearly 20 percent in the last two years, there is still important work to do," Kenney said.

As Krasner campaigned on a progressive agenda, he collected an array of endorsements that included labor unions, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and liberal groups.

By contrast, Grossman primarily earned the support of myriad police organizations, including the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5., headed by John McNesby, who could prove to be a thorn in Krasner's side.

McNesby took issue last May when some of Krasner's supporters broke into profane anti-police chants at his primary victory party, calling them "parasites of the city." Prior to Krasner's official campaign declaration, McNesby labeled the idea of Krasner as district attorney "hilarious."

Grossman had pledged to increase the prosecution of gun crimes and prosecute large-scale drug traffickers while steering more juvenile offenders into diversionary programs.

Grossman shared some similar viewpoints as Krasner, seeking to increase drug diversionary programs and eliminate cash bail for minor, nonviolent offenders. She also opposes the death penalty in some cases.

But she opposed Philadelphia's sanctuary city policies and defended the use of civil asset forfeiture, saying it improves quality of life for neighbors living alongside drug dealers.

Philly voters, however, decided they wanted someone more progressive.

"This is step one, I hope, of the decarceration of Philadelphia," said Annike Sprow, 23, of West Philly.

Before leaving his victory party, Krasner led his supporters in chants of "This is what democracy looks like" and "This is what a movement looks like."

After Donald Trump's election last November, many progressives sought to rally around a candidate who supported their causes. In Krasner, Philly will have one of the most progressive district attorneys in the United States. 

"We're ready to do the hard work to make the changes that need to be done," said Katie Longo, 23, of Center City. 


In the city controller's race, Democrat Rebecca Rhynhart bested Republican Mike Tomlinson.

With nearly 88 percent of precincts reporting, Rhynhart had 138,861 votes to 31,337 for Tomlinson, according to unofficial tallies.

Rhynhart, who upset incumbent controller Alan Butkovitz in the primary, most recently served as Kenney's chief administrative officer. But she has held top City Hall positions since 2008, having previously served as budget director and city treasurer under former Mayor Michael Nutter.

Tomlinson is a CPA holding both corporate and tax accountant experience. He also has taught mathematics, accounting and finance in Philly schools and volunteers at the Tacony-Holmesburg Town Watch and the Holmesburg Civic Association.

As controller, Rhynhart will earn about $133,000 while overseeing a $9 million budget and a staff of 138 employees. She was elected to a four-year term.