A civil rights attorney who spent his career criticizing the criminal justice system is the probable next district attorney of the city of Philadelphia.
Larry Krasner, a criminal defense attorney with a Center City law firm, last night won the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia District Attorney, putting him in a powerful spot come November and making him a near-lock to win office. Unofficial returns show voter turnout among Democrats is already higher than the last competitive race to be district attorney.
Over the years, Krasner certainly made a name for himself in criminal justice circles, but wasn’t exactly a household name in Philly. There’s a lot to know about the guy — here’s 10 of the most important points:
1. Krasner is an avowed progressive.
Those who watched this race closely have correctly pointed out that Krasner wasn’t the only candidate who’s progressive and wanted criminal justice reforms. But no other candidate ran on reform like Krasner, and truth be told, no other candidate has been espousing these views for the sheer length of time that Krasner has. Krasner worked on issues like indigenous rights and represented homeless people and the poor back in law school. He worked for the Federal Public Defender’s Office after that, and then opened his own Center City firm in 1993.
He’s even admitted that in this race, he was basically the local version of Bernie Sanders, telling The Intercept in an interview this week “I do feel like the Bernie in this race. Ain’t nobody perfect but neither am I, so I think it’s great. They stood for change from the outside.”
Here’s a campaign video of Krasner talking about social justice, change and necessity of a “change maker” to do so:
2. He formed a strong coalition of support — fast.
Part of what set Krasner apart from his opponents was his ability to quickly create a broad base of support, rather than rely largely on a single union or other institution to drum up turnout. He got into the race relatively late compared to some of his opponents, making that coalition-building power even more notable.
Just take a look at the list of groups and people who support Krasner, starting with Black Lives Matter activists from around the country and Color of Change, a group that’s working to “end practices that unfairly hold black people back.” A lawyer wrote in The Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest newspaper serving the African American community, that Krasner is “the blackest white DA candidate ever.” He also won support from progressive groups like the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Pennsylvania Working Families, the Food & Water Action Fund and several unions.
And not only did he attract groups and institutions at a grassroots level, but he got help from some of the most influential politicians in Philadelphia when ward leaders Marian Tasco and Isabella Fitzgerald endorsed him. Both of them hail from predominately African American, voter-rich wards in the Northwest part of the city, where turnout *was* high. Current district Councilwomen Maria Quiñones Sánchez and Cherelle Parker also endorsed Krasner, as did At-large Councilwoman Helen Gym.
3. That boost from a billionaire
In politics, support is always great. Money is usually better.
Not only was Krasner able to drum up support among an expanding base in Philadelphia, but he got a whole lotta help from forces outside the city. Liberal billionaire George Soros, through a PAC, dumped well over a million dollars into this race to support Krasner as part of a national effort to get progressive candidates in office. That money funded a huge amount of ads in Krasner’s favor that also could have put him over the top, and Soros’ funds made the overall DA’s race twice as expensive as the last time around.
4. Krasner has never been a prosecutor
He’s spent nearly his entire career as a defense attorney, and was the only candidate on the Democratic slate to have never before been a prosecutor or judge (unless you consider “prosecuting police” experience in that department). Krasner reveled in his lack of experience as a prosecutor, though, telling Newsworks in March that it’s actually the reason he’s right for the DA’s job.
5. He’s represented major protest and social justice movements
As a defense attorney, Krasner has represented groups like ACT UP, Black Lives Matter, Decarcerate PA, Heeding God’s Call, Occupy Philly and Reclaim Philadelphia. He repped protesters from both the 2000 RNC and the 2016 DNC.
Last year, Billy Penn chatted with Krasner about his work with RNC protesters in Philadelphia in 2000 when police were described as “brutal” and “notoriously aggressive.” More than 400 people were arrested, largely due to a raid on a puppet warehouse in West Philly when dozens of activists were arrested and detained. And though it was years ago, it still gets Krasner fired up.
“The city engaged in campaign of saying the protesters had no message,” Krasner said last year. “That’s about as fucking cynical as it gets. Those people in the puppet warehouse were all found not guilty or dismissed… There was no doubt that this highly irregular pattern was a fix.”
6. Krasner wants major criminal justice reforms
We suggest you check out Krasner’s full platform on his website, but safe to say he’s all in on major changes to how Philadelphia’s criminal justice community does business. And that’s huge — Philadelphia has the highest rate of incarceration among cities in the Northeast. Highlights of his platform include ending cash bail for low-level offenders, focusing on violent crime, ending illegal stop-and-frisk, ending civil asset forfeiture and standing up against police misconduct.
7. He also says he’ll never seek the death penalty
Not only will Krasner support PA Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty, he was the first candidate to say no matter who’s in charge at the state level, he will never seek the death penalty. That means in a span of just about a decade, Philadelphia will likely go from having “the deadliest DA” in Lynne Abraham, to someone who vows they’ll *never* seek a sentence of execution. Krasner mentioned it last night after his win:
8. He’s vowed to be a local check on the Trump administration
Krasner says he’ll stand up for undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia, and “resisting the Trump administration” is a main tenet of his platform. Here’s what he told The Intercept about the role of local prosecutors:
The good news is that the feds don’t have enough law enforcement officers. They have jurisdiction over certain things like drugs and guns, but they still need to have boots on the ground. If they’re going to try to go back to a war on drugs that has failed so miserably, they’ll have a hard time doing it in places where local prosecutors aren’t willing to do it for them. I am not willing to help ICE with mass deportations. I am not willing to help the DEA or the FBI return to the mentality of the war on drugs. Of course I would engage in what I view to be appropriate drug enforcement but that doesn’t look like the war on drugs. If local district attorneys simply stand up and say, “You go ahead, we’re not going to be a part of your plan. We’re not funded for it, we’re not required to do it,” he will have great difficulty carrying out almost all of what he’s trying to do.
Here’s a video of Krasner speaking out against the Trump administration:
9. If elected, he’s going to clash with police, and maybe some people in his own office
He wasn’t the pick of the Philadelphia Police union, and in fact was most likely the person they wanted to win least. Krasner says he’s filed more than 75 lawsuits against the police, and has spent his career criticizing cops and the criminal justice system. And if he wins in November, Krasner is going to enter a DA’s office that likely includes more than a few people who aren’t excited to see him.
A group of former assistant district attorneys wrote an open letter urging Philadelphians to vote against Krasner, and current police officers and ADA’s have quietly suggested they’re concerned about Krasner’s vows to upend how the Office of the District Attorney currently operates. Krasner knows this.
“If you have a truly progressive DA,” he told The Intercept, “there’s going to be a certain portion of the DA’s office who can’t stand the idea of change. They’re going to leave.”
It doesn’t help that he’s admitted he can be a little abrasive, telling Newsworks: “I have a very direct style. I’m very upfront about what I think. The culture in politics of ‘let’s all get along — Mr. Hitler you have a nice mustache’ is not my culture. I think you have to speak truth to power.”