If you follow Philly politics in the local press, you may assume that District Attorney Larry Krasner faces intense political opposition. The media narrative is simple: DA Krasner’s reforms of the criminal justice system have drawn support among progressives nationally but provoked extreme backlash locally. There’s just one problem—there’s absolutely no evidence of widespread voter discontent with Krasner or local candidates that align themselves with him. In fact, local politicians who have attempted to capitalize on Krasner’s supposed unpopularity have all failed. Meanwhile, candidates who have embraced Krasner have won. That’s been the trend since Krasner was first elected in 2017 and it repeated itself again on Tuesday.
Let’s start with Mayor Jim Kenney. His Republican challenger howled about the supposed negative impact of Kenney’s support for Krasner’s reforms. He got crushed. That’s not surprising given the built-in advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in Philly, but the same dynamic was present in the Democratic primary. Both Senator Anthony Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz tried to attack Kenney on criminal justice issues as well. It was on full display during the only televised debate. Kenney declined to criticize Krasner despite repeated prompts from the moderator. In contrast, Williams and Butkovitz aggressively went after Krasner from the debate stage. Both men went on to be thumped by Kenney.
This happened in down ballot races as well. Rochelle Bilal, a city cop for over two decades, beat incumbent Sheriff Jewel Williams in a surprise upset during the primary and went on to easily win the general election. Krasner attended her campaign announcement, headlined a fundraiser, and repeatedly praised her campaign publicly. Their connection goes back to Krasner’s own election, when the Guardian Civic League (an association of black police officers led by Bilal) endorsed him for the general election. The leadership of the FOP made a big deal out of endorsing Bilal’s opponent because of her association with Krasner, yet she still won easily.
So why is there the misconception of some massive political backlash against Krasner? It’s partially because his critics are so vocal and singularly obsessed.
What about City Council? The most obvious example is Kendra Brooks of the Working Families Party, who appeared in a video with Krasner just before Tuesday’s election. The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce launched a last-minute effort to keep her from winning but used most of their resources to attack Krasner. The strategy was simple—use the imaginary Krasner backlash to motivate voters to come out and vote Republican to stop the Working Families Party. That strategy failed and Brooks became the first independent candidate to win a seat on Council in more than 100 years.
There’s also no evidence that any Democrats running for City Council were hurt by associating with Krasner or failing to criticize him. But what about the vocal Krasner opponents? Every Republican running for City Council was critical of Krasner in some capacity. Yet the only Republican to win on Tuesday was incumbent David Oh. He has been critical of Krasner, but not in an extreme way like some of the other candidates. Oh has invited Krasner to appear on his radio program and even joined the DA at a fairly recent press conference to announce a new policy to prevent deed theft. Oh’s implicit message is that he’s willing to criticize Krasner on some issues but collaborate on others. And he was the only Republican to win citywide.
Every Republican running for City Council was critical of Krasner in some capacity. Yet the only Republican to win on Tuesday was incumbent David Oh.
Perhaps the most surprising example of the nonexistent Krasner backlash came from the Philadelphia suburbs. Republicans in Delaware County desperately tried to tie Democratic candidate for District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer to Krasner. They had some real ammunition to work with, given the fact that a Super PAC funded by George Soros got involved in the Delco race. Despite heavy spending by GOP stressing this connection, the Republicans lost control of the District Attorney’s Office for the first time since the Civil War. If you can’t find the Krasner backlash in the mostly white and middle-class suburbs, where else could it possibly be found?
So why is there the misconception of some massive political backlash against Krasner? It’s partially because his critics are so vocal and singularly obsessed. This opposition has been magnified beyond its significance by local criminal justice reporters who have long relied on cops, prosecutors, and court staff as sources. If the only people you talk to regularly are freaking out about Krasner, you start to assume that it’s the whole city.
But the post-2017 election results indicate that the press may be missing the real story. There is no widespread backlash to Krasner’s reforms—in fact, there seems to be a growing part of the electorate that is consistently voting to push the city government to the left, including on criminal justice issues.
Ben Waxman is a local progressive activist and the former spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.Header photo: Kristi Petrillo