A little over a year ago, Philly’s District Attorney-elect was talking about protests, and he was on a roll.
Larry Krasner said Mayor Jim Kenney, considered a progressive by many, was releasing “ill-informed,” “not encouraging” statements about protesters in the run-up to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
That was the appetizer. Krasner also referred to the Philadelphia Police as “Darth Vader,” former PA Supreme Court justice Seamus McCaffery as “a sociopath” and George W. Bush as a “fucking warmonger.” He sarcastically said Lynne Abraham, whose past office he will now hold, belongs on the “Mount Rushmore of freedom.” Krasner ended the conversation by asking me not to print too many of the expletives that had flown freely from his mouth over the last 20 minutes. I did not oblige because it would’ve meant striking almost every sentence from the record.
About six months later, he sent me a text message. He was holding a press conference to announce his candidacy for District Attorney and wanted media to come. Krasner?
Yet after the after the election of Donald Trump, the corruption scandal of previous DA Seth Williams and increased activism citywide, Krasner was exactly the DA Philadelphia wanted. The AP called the election in favor of Krasner just over an hour after polls closed. He defeated Republican Beth Grossman soundly, taking 74 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts counted on a day when about 200,000 votes were cast, a massive turnout increase compared to four years ago. Philadelphia now has a District Attorney who will be getting more attention than perhaps any similar official in the country.
With loads of national media coverage and heavy grassroots support in the leadup to the May primary, Krasner as political darling feels established. But nearly everyone in the legal community reacted with surprise upon hearing he’d enter the race — and not just those wary of a reformer, like Fraternal Order of Police chief John McNesby.
Fellow attorney Mike Lee, who would become Krasner’s campaign chair, got the notice on Jan. 21 while working an expungement clinic. He’d known Krasner since shortly after graduating law school and starting his own practice. They’d worked together on defending Occupy Philly protesters.
“It was a funny phone call,” said Lee, reflecting on Krasner telling him the news. “He was like, ‘I want to talk to you about something crazy.’… I was like, ‘yeah that’s pretty crazy.’”
When he announced his candidacy in February, Krasner was surrounded by activists. TJ Ghose, a well-known figure in the Occupy Philly movement, said, “I’ve given up on establishment politics, but this I will engage in.” As the weeks went on, the establishment joined. Influential members of the city Democratic party, including the powerful Northwest Coalition, endorsed him. Perhaps most importantly, Krasner tapped into the sweet, seemingly unending pile of PAC money, with billionaire George Soros backing him to the tune of $1.4 million.
The larger Krasner’s following grew, the further left the race moved. His primary opponents began discussing the same topics of reform and opposition to the death penalty, to the point where Daily News columnist Helen Ubiñas wondered when the candidates would talk about justice for victims. Even Grossman has gone on the record as being open to safe injection sites and supporting sentencing reforms, and she’s a Republican.
Lee referred to Krasner as “the GPS.”
“It was like every issue, everyone seemed to agree that was a good idea.” As the DA-elect, Krasner will give direction not to fellow candidates but an army of attorneys, many of whom could be disenfranchised by someone who’s spoken ill of the office. He wants to eradicate cash bail, offer diversionary sentences and counseling to low-level drug offenders rather than prison sentences, end illegal stop-and-frisk, fight back against police abuses, maintain Philly’s sanctuary city status and better review cases brought to the DA by police.
The latest national profile of Krasner, courtesy of The Atlantic Monday, pointed out how he recently called himself “completely unelectable.” But now we’re here: An unexpected progressive experiment will play out with a national audience over the next four years, but its actual results will be felt in Philadelphia.