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National progressives are watching Philly’s D.A. race

The primary prize: It's Krasner v. Vega and all eyes are on May 18

Krasner and Vega
Incumbent Larry Krasner (left) and challenger Carlos Vega (right) face-off in the hotly contested Democratic primary on May 18. | Images: Provided

It is very rare, in Philadelphia, for a district attorney’s race to catch fire.

It has this year and the outcome is of national interest. Why?

Because far-left Democratic incumbent Larry Krasner, 60, is one of “George’s Boys” — a clutch of D.A.’s (not all male), who claim to be “reforming” the criminal justice system, while often upending it.

In the 2017 Democratic primary, criminal defense attorney Krasner — backed by a jaw-dropping $1.7 million from a political action committee funded by progressive billionaire George Soros — beat six opponents to secure the nomination, with slightly more than one-third of the votes cast. Because Democrats have a 7-1 registration edge in Philadelphia, the Democratic primary winner is almost always the winner of the general election. 

Predictably, in the 2017 general election, Krasner bested Republican Beth Grossman, a traditional prosecutor, by 3-1. Grossman beat the 7-1 point spread, so to speak, but still lost — 150,330 to 50,858. A total of 201,246 votes were cast, with turnout less than 20 percent.

The D.A. race is an off-year election, turnout is traditionally low, and anything can happen.

In 1985, with the D.A.’s chair vacant, the “anything” was Republican Ron Castille — a Vietnam vet who lost a leg in the war. The former U.S. Marine campaigned furiously against a Democratic cipher, and won — the last Republican to become D.A.

The “anything” this year is Democratic insurgent Carlos Vega, who, unlike Krasner, has vast experience as a prosecutor and who wants to lock up bad people, rather than make excuses for them. 

There is a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this city that is promoted and championed by District Attorney Larry Krasner — and I am fed up with it.

– William McSwain

Vega, 64, was a lead homicide prosecutor for most of his 35 years in the D.A.’s office before being fired by Krasner, along with 30 other veterans, shortly after the defense lawyer took over the office at 3 S. Penn Square. Vega filed an age discrimantion suit against Krasner. That’s ironic, because Krasner has a long history of suing the police department.

Vega represents the traditional, liberal approach to law enforcement, which starts with enforcement, but includes programs and diversions that help rather than punish.

But that is not good enough for progressives, and if Krasner is in a tough fight, as many believe, watch for last-minute Soros money to come pouring in.

In fact, it has just begun, but not as much as 2017 — yet, as the Inquirer admits Krasner is in a fight for his job. 

“We know most of Krasner’s money comes from out of town,” says longtime political observer Larry Ceisler, who thinks Krasner will win. 

“If Krasner loses this somehow, I don’t think it’s about criminal justice reform, it’s more of a personal loss than anything. He is not a good politician.”

Nor is Vega, Ceisler adds.

Carlos Vega participates in a West Philly spring clean-up last month and meets up with “Ya Fav Trashman” to do some of the dirty work. | Image: Lorraine Donnelly

One humorous line that Vega uses to describe himself is that he plays well with others.

The implication is that Krasner does not, including other law enforcement officials.

Before he resigned following the election of President Joe Biden, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William McSwain wrote: “There is a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this city that is promoted and championed by District Attorney Larry Krasner — and I am fed up with it.”

Krasner has repeatedly called the police union “racist,” and after his election-night victory, some of his campaign workers chanted, “Fuck the police!” Officers barred Krasner from visiting a wounded cop in the hospital on one occasion.

We know most of Krasner’s money comes from out of town.”

– Larry Ceisler 

As you may know from “Law & Order,” cops and prosecutors are supposed to be teammates to protect the public.

Protecting the public is not high on Krasner’s to-do list, and that is especially important as homicides are on a trajectory to set a new record this year. 

In a highly unusual move, the Democratic Party city committee declined to endorse Krasner, the Democratic incumbent. The city’s progressive mayor, Jim Kenney, declined to endorse the progressive D.A. Krasner shrugs it off. He answers to a higher power. 

Starting with Krasner, Soros has funded more than a dozen progressive D.A. candidates across the country, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, San Diego, and Houston, according to the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.  

Soros bankrolls many legislative candidates, too, but this — buying district attorneys with their wide discretion as to which crimes to prosecute — is an end run around lawmakers.

Some see the Philadelphia contest as a battle between progressives and traditional Democrats, and those to the right of them. Progressives seem to have the momentum.

Philadelphians have twice elected a progressive mayor. They have elected a third-party progressive to the City Council. Will they re-elect a progressive D.A.?

Not if Carlos Vega can help it.

Despite Krasner’s arrogant predilection for driving away allies, any incumbent must be seen as a favorite, and Krasner retains the same rabid base that turned out for him last time.

Carlos Vega joins residents in the First Annual Unity Day at Ferko Playground in Juniata Park on May 1. | Image: Lorraine Donnelly

Vega, however, managed to keep other Democratic competitors — who would have split the anti-Krasner vote — out of the race. 

He did that by declaring his candidacy early, in December, he said, and quickly raising a war chest of more than $100,000. Also: “People were afraid of Krasner. They were intimidated by him and his money from out of state.” 

Krasner never responded to queries from PW.

About three quarters of Krasner’s donors are out of state (Hello, John Legend), according to WHYY, while almost all of Vega’s donors are local. 

The question is this: Can Vega ignite and mobilize the anti-Krasner forces to get to the polls?

He got a little help on Tuesday when former Mayor Ed Rendell endorsed Vega, who he hired to be an assistant D.A. His endorsement of Vega put Rendell in the traditional Democrat camp. 

It’s awful to say it, but the best thing going for Vega is the massive murder rate, running 34 percent ahead of last year, which nearly set a record. Rightly or wrongly, many people blame Krasner, because it happened on his watch. That’s politics. 

Krasner has been accused of failing to prosecute gun crimes in the midst of an epidemic of gun violence. The numbers don’t lie. Krasner has withdrawn almost half of gun possession cases, always blaming something else — like witnesses not appearing, or “weak evidence,” as if this were new to the D.A.’s office.

It was only “new” to this D.A., who lacks experience, and lacks the will to prosecute.

Philadelphians will decide if they have had enough of this kind of progressive “reform” on May 18. 

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  • Stu Bykofsky served the Philadelphia Daily News as an editor, reporter and columnist for nearly 50 years before retiring in 2019. He now publishes at the centrist stubykofsky.com. 

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