ABOVE PHOTO: DA Larry Krasner is joined at the podium by his family. (L-R) son Nate, wife, Judge Lisa Rau and son Caleb Krasner with supporters. (Photo courtesy: Denise Clay)
Incumbent District Attorney Larry Krasner managed to retain power in his clash against Carlos Vega in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and all future governors lost some power thanks to a GOP led referendum.
By Denise Clay-Murray
Reform vs. Safety.
For many people, this binary represented the choice that voters had to make in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for District Attorney.
One side, represented by challenger Carlos Vega, believed that reform should take a back seat due to the city’s issues with gun violence, while the other, represented by current DA Larry Krasner, felt that the criminal justice system should be able to handle reform and the city’s violence issues simultaneously.
On Tuesday night, Krasner, and by extension the city’s Criminal Justice reform efforts, won the Democratic Primary. With 96% of the city’s 1,703 voting divisions reporting, Krasner defeated Vega by a 30-point-margin to win the nomination.
Voter turnout was extremely low, with less than 20% of Philadelphia’s registered voters — a total of 187,370 — making their way to the polls.
As he walked into a small ballroom at the Sonesta Hotel in Center City to the sounds of punk rock legends “The Clash”, Krasner told supporters that his victory was confirmation of support for his direction for the District Attorney’s office despite the miniscule turnout.
“Four years ago, we promised reform and a focus on serious crime,” he said. “They voted us back in with a mandate. The mandate of these voters today…in many ways coming from the people most affected by serious crime, chooses a bright future that is rooted in equality, reform and a criminal justice system that embraces prevention and public health, rehabilitation, and investment in communities and community-based organizations that heal.”
One of the group of attorneys fired by Krasner once he became District Attorney, Vega made the argument that he could be more of a change agent in the area of criminal justice reform because he had better relationships with law enforcement agencies. He was endorsed by his former boss, former Gov. Ed Rendell.
He was also endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. The union, led by President John McNesby, sank more money into Vega’s candidacy than it had in previous DA campaigns. It also stationed a Mister Softee ice cream truck in front of Krasner’s office to portray the DA as being “soft on crime”, citing such things as a decline in gun convictions during Krasner’s tenure.
But in order for Vega to win, Philadelphians had to agree with his and the FOP’s contention when it comes to justice, said Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier. As someone who has gone into the neighborhoods hit hardest by the city’s rash of shootings, she saw this election as Philadelphia’s way of continuing the same demand for something better that they made in 2017, no matter how hard it might be to get there, she said.
“I am so glad that this race happened in this way,” Gauthier said. “I’m so glad that it was a direct faceoff between the future, which is Krasner and the past, which is Vega because it means that Philadelphians meant it. They meant that they want to end mass incarceration. They meant that they want to hold corrupt police accountable. And they meant that they think that gun violence is more than just about enforcement. It’s about investment in people and communities.”
Reporters were not permitted to attend Vega’s election night party, which was held in Northeast Philadelphia. On his Twitter account Wednesday morning, Vega acknowledged those who showed him support.
“It looks like tonight we did not get the result that we wanted, but even in defeat, we have grace and we smile,” he said. “Thank you to our supporters and most especially to the victims of crime who bravely stood up when the establishment, the celebrities and the media decided they wouldn’t listen.”
“This was not easy for the victims especially,” Vega continued. “Please remember them. Please give your thoughts to our city. I am hopeful that my opponent will take them more seriously during his tenure.”
Krasner will take on defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. for another four-year term in November’s general election. Peruto ran unopposed for the nomination in Tuesday’s Republican primary.
In addition to the DA’s race, there were also four ballot questions for voters to consider during Tuesday’s primaries.
Questions one and two were aimed at giving the state legislature the power to end a governor’s emergency declaration and to limit such declarations to 21 days no matter what the circumstances.
These questions, which were approved, were created in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration shutting down businesses, schools and such things as restaurants and nail salons at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Question three, which was also approved by voters, was spearheaded by State Sen. Vincent Hughes and amended the state constitution to outlaw discrimination based on race and ethnicity.
While there are federal laws governing discrimination, the death of George Floyd inspired Hughes to connect with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Keir Bradford Grey, former head of Philadelphia’s Defenders Association, to put together something more tailored to Pennsylvania itself, he said.
“There’s no language in the state’s constitution regarding race and ethnicity,” Hughes said.
“What most states have been operating on is federal protections. But, what the lawyers, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania have indicated, is that the way we crafted this language makes it much more broad, and it allows to generate legal action in a lot more different spaces that what currently exists in the federal protections.”
Another ballot question approved by voters would allow fire departments staffed by professional firefighters and emergency medical service teams eligible to apply for loans that were previously only available to volunteer fire departments.