PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A civil rights lawyer poised to become the city’s next district attorney while the current district attorney faces a bribery trial says he will immediately stop seeking the death penalty if elected and will prioritize education, drug treatment and job training.
Defense lawyer Larry Krasner’s left-leaning policy positions worry some police officers and city prosecutors following his Democratic primary victory Tuesday. The vast majority of city voters are Democrats, making Krasner the favorite in the fall election against Republican Beth Grossman.
Krasner said he would recruit top legal minds from around the country to elevate the 600-person staff, half of them lawyers.
“There’s been too much of an emphasis in the past on trying to maximize convictions, maximize sentences, maximize the use of mandatory sentencing,” Krasner said Wednesday. “We won’t be reckless with taxpayer money, throwing it down the hole of incarceration rather than putting it into the things that actually prevent crime, like public education, like job training, like treatment for people who suffer from the medical condition that is addiction.”
City police union president John McNesby criticized a handful of Krasner supporters making anti-police comments on primary night.
“That’s what the campaign surrounded itself with,” McNesby told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “That’s what we’ll have to deal with until the campaign is over.”
However, Krasner said he had spoken with police Commissioner Richard Ross on Wednesday and was confident they can work together, even if they disagree at times.
Krasner attended public school before studying at the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School. His wife, Lisa Rau, is a city judge in the civil division.
Krasner benefited from a $1.5 million donation from liberal billionaire George Soros to an independent political action committee that ran commercials and sent out canvassers in support of his candidacy. He said he did not consider it to be outside money, given that “we all have a stake in justice.”
Several other Democratic candidates also supported prison and bail reform and prisoner re-entry programs, despite efforts under Republican President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to return to the era of long prison terms for drugs and other crimes.
Yet Krasner noted that people as far apart as independent Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran for president as a Democrat and has called for free college tuition, and the Koch brothers, businessmen who have made huge financial contributions to conservative causes and Republican campaigns, are concerned about the number of people filling U.S. prisons.
“I think there are going to be a lot of candidates across the country who are viewed as the opposite of Donald Trump, the opposite of Jeff Sessions,” Krasner said. “They are people who understand that the war on drugs was a failure, that mass incarceration is a disgrace and a national problem and that we have to go in a different direction. Everybody gets it but Sessions and Trump.”
Sessions has argued that a spike in violence in some big cities and the nation’s opioid epidemic call for a return to harsher prison sentences.
Philadelphia’s current district attorney, Seth Williams, is facing a federal bribery trial next month and did not run for re-election. Williams, a Democrat, is accused of promising legal favors in exchange for $100,000 worth of cash and gifts. He has pleaded not guilty.
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