Progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner survived a challenge in the Democratic primary that pit his progressive reforms against growing concern over a rising tide of homicides and gun crimes.
Many pundits nationally saw the primary as the first referendum on whether a wave of prosecutors elected on promises of criminal justice reforms — measures like shorter probation and parole and a curtailing of cash bail that disproportionately keeps poor defendants confined pretrial — can survive a rising tide of gun violence and homicides across the country.
He beat challenger Carlos Vega, who billed himself as a third option between traditional law-and-order prosecutions and reform.
Krasner will still face Republican challenger and well-known local attorney Charles Peruto Jr. in November, though many believed it’s likely the election Tuesday in an overwhelmingly Democratic voting city would decide the future of the prosecutor’s office.
Much of the backlash from critics in Philadelphia and in other cities that elected progressive prosecutors places blame for the increased gun violence at the feet of those district attorneys. But supporters have pushed back noting that increased violence during the pandemic amid reduced social services and economic instability are hitting cities with both progressive district attorneys and traditional law-and-order prosecutors.
Krasner, a 60-year-old longtime civil rights and defense attorney, won election in 2017 from a crowded field by billing himself as the outsider candidate capable of making radical changes.
“Our promise fundamentally was that we would focus on serious crime while bringing reform. We said we would do something about mass incarceration. We have cut the future years of incarceration in half,” Krasner said Saturday, speaking during a break in last-minute campaigning and efforts to turn out votes in a non-presidential election year, an important factor in a race where nearly 7,000 voters had switched parties from Republican to Democrat in the lead up to the primaries.
The current team of prosecutors also cut the years of future parole and probation supervision by nearly two-thirds compared to the previous administration, Krasner said. Pennsylvania has gotten a lot of attention for being an outlier with the length of probation and parole terms far above the national average.
Krasner strengthened the office’s conviction integrity unit, which has helped free nearly 20 wrongfully convicted people, and also touts grant funding used to create the office’s first data team that looks at the long-term effect of policies, hiring the office’s first criminologist and playing a role in the ending of a 10-year contract that shared data with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Trump was trying to deport victims of domestic violence… and we cannot have a world where they are afraid to walk into a courthouse or afraid to seek help,” Krasner said.
Vega’s plans had included bringing federal law enforcement partners to the table to press what he says are a small number of people responsible for gun crimes. Vega, 64, wanted to create an earn and learn approach to supervision, where each benchmark a person earns would knock time off of their probation or parole.
The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5 in Philadelphia has sunk more money and effort into unseating Krasner than perhaps any political race in recent memory, said Lodge President John McNesby. The group has backed Vega and hammered home messaging that blames rising homicides and gun violence on Krasner. On a recent sunny afternoon, McNesby handed out soft serve cones after parking a Mr. Softee ice cream truck in front of the district attorney’s office with the message that Krasner is soft on crime.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia chapters of the Guardian Civic League and Club Valiants — fraternal organizations representing Black and Latino police and firefighters — had endorsed Krasner for another term. The groups last year had fought with the larger police union and the local firefighters union over endorsements of former President Donald Trump, who they said supported racists and did not represent them.