Philly District Attorney Seth Williams won’t seek re-election, dogged by ethics problems

He had received a record fine from the Philadelphia Ethics Board, and it was reported he was under FBI investigation.

District Attorney Seth Williams

District Attorney Seth Williams


Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced this morning he would not seek re-election following more than a year’s worth of controversy, questions about his ethics and a reported FBI investigation.

Williams, first elected in 2009 and the city’s first black district attorney, made the announcement during a press conference at the DA’s office Friday morning. Last month, Williams received a record fine from the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for failing to disclose gifts and sources of income, and it was reported in 2015 he was under investigation by the FBI.

The district attorney apologized to family and staff members for “regrettable mistakes” in his personal and financial life and said his actions “cast an unnecessary shadow” on the office that distracted staff members from the pursuit of justice. He also said the decision to not seek re-election will begin the “process of healing” for his two daughters who have watched their father face public scrutiny.

Williams will serve out the rest of his term, during which time he said he will work to “regain the trust” of the people of Philadelphia. He didn’t take any questions during the press conference after reading aloud a more than 10-minute statement, much of which touted his successes over the last seven years.

The move now leaves the race wide open to a large field of candidates who have declared that they’ll run for district attorney, including former prosecutor Joe Khan, former Managing Director Rich Negrin, Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, former prosecutor Michael Untermeyer and civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner, who are running as Democrats. Former prosecutors Beth Grossman is running as a Republican.

The biggest controversy surrounding Williams surfaced last year, when he revealed he had not properly disclosed 89 gifts and five sources of income to his campaign fund from 2010 to 2015. These gifts included everything from Eagles and Sixers tickets to free roof repair on his house valued at $45,000. Last month, the Philadelphia Ethics Board slapped him with a $62,000 fine, the largest settlement in the board’s history.

At the press conference, Williams acknowledged the failure to report gifts brought “shame and adversity” to him and the DA’s office. Even before the gifts, things had started turning sour for him in his second term. In the summer of 2015, the Inquirer reported he was being investigated by the Feds (no charges have been filed). Things got worse that fall after pressure increased for him to cut ties with assistant prosecutors Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Patrick Blessington, who had been ensnared in the porny emails scandal. Williams declined to fire the prosecutors and instead hired a firm to conduct sensitivity training in his office.   

Williams was elected years ago promoting crime prevention and reduction in recidivism. Before the recent ethics questions, he was seen as a rising star in the local Democratic Party, a possible candidate for Congress or Mayor.

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