Election 2017

The procrastinator’s guide to the November 2017 general election

Yes, we have an election this year. It’s six days away.

Republican Beth Grossman and Democrat Larry Krasner are challenging for District Attorney.

Republican Beth Grossman and Democrat Larry Krasner are challenging for District Attorney.

Facebook via Beth Grossman/Angela Gervasi, Billy Penn
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The first general election in Philadelphia since Donald Trump shook up the establishment is shaping up to be a small one. No City Council spots or even state representative seats are up for grabs. Instead, this election features a few judgeships and two ballot questions, City Controller and, most prominently, District Attorney.

Given the Democrats’ sizable registration advantage in Philadelphia, Democratic Primary winners Larry Krasner and Rebecca Rhynhart are highly likely to win for District Attorney and City Controller, respectively. As such, the bigger mystery will likely be voter turnout. Will it be higher than in 2013, 2009 or 2005, as it was for the primary in spring? Will the Trump bump continue? We’ll find out Tuesday.

Meanwhile, below is a guide on the candidates for the District Attorney races and City Controller races, as well as information on the ballot questions and judicial elections.

District Attorney

Beth Grossman, Republican

Beth Grossman
Facebook via Beth Grossman

Who she is: Grossman is a veteran in the District Attorney’s office, beginning her legal career there months after graduation and staying for more than 21 years, serving in every division of the office. She held leadership roles with the Public Nuisance Task Force, which shuts down drug houses and shell businesses, and the Special Investigations Unit. For the latter, Grossman helped tackle municipal corruption and clean up city government.

But many criminal justice reformers would point at Grossman as in need of the same microscope she applied to other members of city government because of her work with the Public Nuisance Task Force. This unit can seize people’s houses or other property even before they’re charged with a crime, an act known as civil asset forfeiture. Proceeds from the seizures have been used to fund the DA’s office and police department. During her tenure leading the task force, the city became so controversial for its handling of civil asset forfeiture it was mentioned on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” and had a federal lawsuit filed against it.  Grossman still supports civil asset forfeiture.

If all that makes Grossman seem like a Republican hardliner or anti-reformer, it shouldn’t. She was a Democrat until 2013. Plus, she and Krasner agree on many issues — arguably more than they disagree on — and her viewpoints could easily be considered left-leaning against a less liberal candidate.

Three priorities

  1. Juvenile crime reform: Grossman says she wants to keep juveniles out of the jail system as much as possible, emphasizing pre-arrest diversion programs and social services.
  2. Opioid crisis: Grossman wants better treatment and diversion options for drug offenders and prosecutions of large-scale drug traffickers.
  3. Ramping up illegal gun searches: Grossman claims the DA’s Office has decreased its prosecution of violent crimes committed with guns and wants to increase those prosecutions, as well as investigations of illegal gun sales.

Three major endorsements

Returning Citizens for a Better Philadelphia: “Our main concerns are public safety, prevention through education, and re-entry without reoffending.  We need a strong prosecutor like Beth Grossman who prefers education over incarceration, supports alternative means of corrections, can hit the ground running, has a relationship with all of Philadelphia’s communities, is on a quest for parity.”

State Rep. Martina White: “Philadelphia needs a strong District Attorney who will properly uphold and enforce the law and advocate strongly for victims and survivors of crime. That is why I am endorsing and will be voting for Beth Grossman for District Attorney.”

The Inquirer: “That clear vision of who the district attorney’s clients are makes a compelling case for her candidacy. Her prosecutorial and administrative experience, thoughtfulness, and flexibility seal the deal.”

Larry Krasner, Democrat

DACA_4 _ Larry Krasner

Democratic Candidate for District Attorney Larry Krasner has come out in favor of supervised injection sites

Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

Who he is: The new face of the progressive movement, pretty much. When Krasner dominated the Democratic Primary in May, topping seven candidates that he’d pulled further left, he blossomed into a national figure. If Grossman’s union and law enforcement support don’t have an outsized effect on what will likely be a low turnout, Krasner will win and will likely be the subject of many more national stories.

Krasner, who spent some of his childhood in the Philadelphia area, graduated from Stanford Law in 1987 and has worked as a private attorney since. He’s best been known for defending protesters, such as those during the 2000 Republican National Convention and, more recently, Black Lives Matter activists.

Grossman and other critics have questioned his experience and his devotion to victims of crime. As a DA candidate, he has publicized his goals of ending mass incarceration and rooting out police misconduct, more than deterring crime. Before the primary, a dozen former assistant district attorneys published an editorial saying his ideas for reform were dangerous.

Three priorities

  1. Prison reform: Krasner wants the District Attorney’s Office to prosecute fewer of the cases forwarded to it by police. Right now, he’s pointed out, that number is around 98 percent. He also wants to implement alternatives for cash bail and offer alternative sentences to drug offenders that would keep them out of prison.
  2. Police reform: Krasner claims he would end illegal stop-and-frisk by not bringing cases to trial that are dependent on these illegal searches. In general, he wants to crack down on any abusive behavior from police and says he would reform “divisive law enforcement tactics.”
  3. Drug reform: Krasner not only wants alternative punishments for drug users, he also wants Philadelphia to see drugs in a different light, with minor offenders being given opportunities to get treatment instead of a prison sentence. He’s spoken out against Donald Trump’s and AG Jeff Sessions’ preferences for mandatory minimums for drug offenders.

Three major endorsements

  1. Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity: “The sort of progressive viewpoints that really make him somebody who could bring a new approach to criminal justice in the city”
  2. Mayor Jim Kenney: “Larry Krasner believes in the cause of equal justice for all Philadelphians. He will bring a new perspective to the criminal justice system.”
  3. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers: “We need a DA who understands that there’s more to keeping our city safe than prosecuting criminals and adding to the prison population. Real ‘justice’ means stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.”

DA Candidate comparison on key issues

Civil asset forfeiture

  • Grossman: Yes
  • Krasner: No

Death Penalty

  • Grossman: Yes
  • Krasner: No

Philly’s current sanctuary city policy

  • Grossman: No
  • Krasner: Yes

Safe-injection sites

  • Grossman: Yes
  • Krasner: Yes

City Controller

Rebecca Rhynhart, Democrat

Rebecca Rhynhart
RebeccaforPhiladelphia.com

Who she is: Rhynhart shocked incumbent City Controller and apparent Big Gulp devotee Alan Butkovitz this spring, winning big with 59 percent of the vote. But unlike Krasner she’s not an outsider.

Rhynhart worked in the mayoral administrations of both Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney, for the former as a budget director and city treasurer and for the latter as chief administrative officer. As City Controller, if she wins, she’ll be tasked with auditing the Mayor’s Office, City Council and other departments of city government.

Three priorities

  1. More auditing: Rhynhart claims Butkovitz failed to follow the city charter and didn’t audit every city department on an annual basis. She says following the charter and modernizing the office will help the city save at least $10 million a year.
  2. Greater transparency: Rhynhart wants to release expenditure data and other datasets.
  3. Parking Authority reform: Rhynhart wants to audit the PPA and criticized Butkovitz for not having done so.

Three major endorsements

  1. Ed Rendell, former PA governor: “Rebecca represents the breath of fresh air we need. She will help reinvigorate and bring trust back to city government.
  2. Emily’s List: “Rebecca’s experiences as chief administrative officer, city treasurer, and budget director make her beyond qualified to be controller of Philadelphia. She has shown unwavering commitment to making city government work for all residents and businesses.”
  3. Eugene DePasquale, PA auditor general:  “I am a firm believer in the importance of transparency, efficiency and collaboration in government, pillars which have been central to Rebecca’s platform throughout her time on the campaign trial.”

Mike Tomlinson, Republican

Mike Tomlinson
TomlinsonforPhilly.com

Who he is: Tomlinson is a serial political candidate, having previously run, unsuccessfully, for the state House and Senate. He’s a CPA and consultant, and has also worked as a math and finance teacher in the Philly school district. Tomlinson is a lifelong Philadelphian and lives in the Northeast.

As a Republican in a city where 800,000 of 1 million registered voters are Democrats, he hasn’t received as much publicity as Rhynhart. But that hasn’t stopped Tomlinson from going on the attack. On his Facebook page, he referred to Rhynhart as a “Mayor Kenney appointed marionette” and went on a long tangent against the Inquirer.

Three priorities

  1. Explaining the pension crisis: Tomlinson has said Philadelphia’s $11 billion pension obligation is understated and that the city hasn’t been upfront about the problem.
  2. Auditing the school district: Tomlinson believes the Philadelphia School District is not properly audited and its annual $3 billion budget is “ripe for fraud and corruption.”
  3. Soda tax study: Tomlinson has a little Butkovitz in him; He’s called the soda tax “oppressive” to the middle class.

Ballot questions

1. On the ballot: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?”

In English: If you vote yes, the state legislature would have the ability to let local municipalities set to exclude 100 percent of property taxes. This would not get rid of property taxes. It would simply give local municipalities the option of reducing them further than they already can, up to as much as 100 percent of them. Many Republicans and Democrats have voiced opposition to the ballot question.

2. On the ballot: “Should the City of Philadelphia borrow ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-TWO MILLION DOLLARS ($172,000,000.00) to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development?”

In English: Pretty simple. Do you want Philly to borrow $172M for improvements to things like parks, the streets, cleaning the city and city buildings? You can see this bill for more details.

Judges

You’ll be able to vote for judges on five different levels. Here’s a breakdown of how many you can pick for each category and which ones have been recommended by the Philadelphia or Pennsylvania Bar Association. The Philadelphia Bar Association only evaluates local candidates.

Supreme Court (vote 1)

  • Dwayne Woodruff, Democrat (Recommended by PA Bar)
  • Sallie Mundy, Republican (Highly recommended by PA Bar)

Superior Court (vote up to four)

Democrats

  • Maria McLaughlin (Highly recommended by Philly Bar and recommended by PA Bar)
  • Caroly Nichols (Highly recommended by Philly Bar and recommended by PA Bar)
  • Debbie Kunselman (Highly recommended by PA Bar)
  • Geoff Moulton (Highly recommended by PA Bar)

Republicans

  • Craig Stedman (Highly recommended by PA Bar)
  • Emil Giordano (Highly recommended by PA Bar)
  • Wade Kagarise (Recommended by PA Bar)
  • Mary Murray (no rating)

Green Party

  • Jules Mermelstein (no rating)

Commonwealth Court (vote up to two)

Democrats

Ellen Ceisler (Recommended by Philly Bar and PA Bar)

Irene Clark (Not recommended)

Republicans

Paul Lalley (Recommended by PA Bar)

Christine Fizzano Cannon (Highly recommended by PA Bar)

Common Pleas Court (vote up to nine)

Democrats

  • Stella Tsai (Recommended by Philly Bar)
  • Vikki Kristiansson (Recommended by Philly Bar)
  • Lucretia Clemons (Recommended by Philly Bar)
  • Deborah Cianfrani (Not recommended)
  • Zac Shaffer (Recommended by Philly Bar)
  • Deborah Canty (Recommended by Philly Bar)
  • Shanese Johnson (Not recommended)
  • Mark Cohen (Not recommended)
  • Vincent Furlong (Recommended by Philly Bar)

Republicans

  • Vincent Furlong (Recommended by Philly Bar)

Municipal Court (vote up to two)

Democrats

Marissa Brumbach (Recommended by Philly Bar)

Matt Wolf (Recommended by Philly Bar)

Go to the polls

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Find your polling place here and refer to our Pocket Guide to make sure you have what you need and you can spot any funny business.