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Ultimate Job Interview: PA Attorney General Race

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Recap: Let’s Hire an Attorney General!

The Citizen held its latest Ultimate Job Interview Monday for the state’s most important election. See what you missed, learn about the candidates — and vote

Recap: Let’s Hire an Attorney General!

The Citizen held its latest Ultimate Job Interview Monday for the state’s most important election. See what you missed, learn about the candidates — and vote

While answering the first question of last Monday’s Ultimate Job Interview: Attorney General edition, our first job-seeker, former State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale had this to say about the importance of whom Pennsylvanians elect to be our chief law enforcement officer in 2024: “This office, at this time, job number one is protecting our democracy. If we don’t do that, it’s game-set-match on everything else.”

It was a poignant reminder of the role that the next AG could play in a contested 2024 presidential election, and beyond that, in defending state laws from a hostile federal government. In many ways, the AG’s office is a last line of defense between us and autocracy, as current Governor Josh Shapiro (AG from 2017-2023) demonstrated with his many legal victories over the last Trump administration.

But along with that, the AG — often called “the people’s lawyer — is tasked with broad responsibilities that include representing statewide agencies in court, protecting consumer rights, defending state laws, and prosecuting criminals at a state level. Although it’s an independent state office, the politics of who’s running it matters.

It’s a huge job. But considering the primary election is less than a month away (April 23; go check out The Citizen’s Ultimate 2024 Primary Election Guide!), there’s been a void of media coverage of the upcoming race.

That’s why The Citizen teamed up with 6abc, WURD radio and Spotlight PA to host a free AG forum on Monday, March 25; the event was also part of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism’s Every Voice, Every Vote project. More than 300 people gathered in the ballroom of the Fitler Club for the Ultimate Job Interview: AG Edition, which featured all five Democrats in the race. (Both Republican candidates were invited, as well. One cited a conflict; the other did not RSVP in time.)

Unlike most forums, the event followed the format of The Citizen’s Ultimate Job Interview from last year’s Mayoral race. Each candidate took the stage for 20 minutes, to field questions from our panel of expert interviewers: 6abc’s Matt O’Donnell; SpotlightPA investigative reporter Danielle Ohl; and former City Solicitor Marcel Pratt, managing partner of Ballard Spahr law firm. Then, all five took the stage together to answer questions from the audience.

The candidates in attendance were:

  • Eugene DePasquale, former PA auditor general
  • Jack Stollsteimer, Delaware County District Attorney
  • Joe Khan, former Bucks County Solicitor
  • Keir Bradford-Grey, former Philadelphia Chief Public Defender
  • Jared Solomon, Northeast Philly State Representative.

Only two Democrats have been elected Attorney General in the history of Pennsylvania, including Shapiro. The looming threats associated with the November presidential election were among the pressing topics of the interviews. Other recurring themes included the candidates’ approaches to gun laws, the surging violence on SEPTA, legal marijuana and the opioid crisis, social media companies, and environmental rights. There was also the track record of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who became a hot topic throughout the evening — variously embraced, criticized, and deftly danced-around by the candidates at different moments, following a question from Pratt.

It was, as O’Donnell promised at the onset, both informative and fun. “Someone said there was politics and cocktails — I’m in,” he said.

See the full video of the event below. Here are a few highlights from each candidate:

Eugene DePasquale, former Auditor General:

Attorney General candidate Eugene DePasquale, former state Auditor General.

DePasquale has the statewide name recognition, but is he just a career politician looking for his next gig? That was one of the questions he was asked to answer, to which he replied: “I would sign a contract to do this for 8 years and then never run for anything else again.” The former two-term auditor general and former three-term state representative (and onetime Congressional hopeful) emphasized his experience running a statewide office and conducting investigations into difficult matters like the 3,000 untested rape kits his office unearthed. In fact, the budget to his office was cut considerably over his tenure, which DePasquale called “an absolute badge of honor,” suggesting he’ll put the public over politics, even if it’s to his own detriment. Right below defending our democracy from authoritarianism, DePasquale listed three priorities for his AG’s office, if elected: abortion rights, consumer protection, and environmental rights.

Jack Stollsteimer, Delaware County District Attorney

AG candidate Jack Stollsteimer, Delaware County District Attorney.

His pitch to voters: “I’ve actually done the job. I’m not just going to tell you what I think I’m going to do with the job.” The chief law enforcement officer of the fifth-largest county in the state, Stollsteimer touted his role in starting the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods, a program in the city of Chester that’s reduced gun homicides by 68 percent since 2019. Stollsteimer voiced skepticism of both the legal marijuana and gambling industries, saying he questions the public benefits of both. Stollsteimer also had some choice words for Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, who famously left the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (the advocacy group for prosecutors) early in his tenure. “He has increased the violence and crime in our region with some of the programs he put in place,” Stollsteimer said. “I think he has to change his mentality if he wants to continue to be District Attorney of Philadelphia. I love what Mayor Parker is doing, and I think that’s where the public sentiment is: We have to address violent crime in a smart, compassionate way.”

Joe Khan, former Bucks County Solicitor

AG candidate Joe Khan, former Bucks County Solicitor

The first question for Khan, who finished second to Larry Krasner in the Democratic primary for District Attorney in 2018, was about what went wrong in that race. “I don’t think it’s helpful to look back … I think we have to accept the results of elections and move forward,” he said pointedly, generating applause. The son of a Pakistani immigrant, Khan spoke about the need for common-sense gun laws to combat violence and he endorsed the right of municipalities in the state to enact their own gun laws (currently prohibited in the Commonwealth). He also talked about his “David vs. Goliath” lawsuit against Meta and other social media companies for targeting children with their algorithm while he was solicitor in Bucks County. As a parent of children in the Central Bucks School District, Khan has had a front-row view of some of the issues facing students and families around the state, from book bans to anti-trans rhetoric, he said. When asked about having to defend laws he didn’t personally agree with as AG — such as a ban on trans students from using the bathroom of their choice, as seen in other states — he said that his duty to the Constitution supersedes the AG’s need to defend policies that violate civil rights. “If I see laws like that as attorney general, am I going to defend them when they fly in the face of not only the U.S. Constitution but also Pennsylvania’s Constitution? Hell no,” he said.

Keir Bradford-Grey, former Philadelphia Chief Public Defender

AG candidate Keir Bradford-Grey, former Chief Public Defender for Philadelphia

The most progressive candidate in the race, Bradford-Grey was asked if she thought that being a lifelong defense attorney would interfere with her ability to lead an office of prosecutors, to which she answered with a metaphor: “If they don’t think that a person from the defense can be offensive, look at Mike Tomlin; he became the coach of the [Pittsburgh] Steelers — and he was a defensive player.” Bradford-Grey didn’t shy away from the idea that the AG’s office would look different under her leadership, referring to her mission as “a visionary” approach to being the people’s lawyer which would consider things like overturning wrongful convictions as part of its duty. Bradford-Grey also said that she would like to join a federal lawsuit brought by 42 AGs against Meta (Pennsylvania is currently not a plaintiff) which accuses Facebook’s parent company of targeting kids and instilling addictive behaviors in them. When asked about her philosophy on which businesses she’d look to prosecute, she put it simply: “Don’t be a bad actor, and you’ll be fine.”

Jared Solomon, Northeast Philly State Representative

AG candidate Jared Solomon, a Northeast Philly state representative.

With the largest war-chest of any of the candidates, Solomon, ironically, spoke about the need to restrict money and special interests in politics. As part of his self-described “reform-minded agenda,” Solomon called for a gift ban at the state level, more transparency around dark-money groups, and cleaning up campaign finance laws. On the topic of reducing gun violence, he spoke about borrowing from successful programs within his Northeast Philadelphia district. “I’ve taken a very expansive view of what public safety means in our communities. I believe it means enforcement, investment, and protection from special interests,” he said, referring to a holistic approach that includes diversionary programs, street cleaning, and more gun regulation. He also touted his ability to reach across the aisle, having done so in the Statehouse, which he argued will help appeal to moderate Republicans and independents in the general election, if he’s the Democratic nominee. John Middleton, the owner of the Phillies, is Solomon’s largest donor. “[He] supports me because I’m reform-minded,” he said. “I’ve taken on all the special interests, political power-brokers, political elites.”

Watch the full forum here:

Ultimate Job Interview attendees Tyra Virden and Elijah Neal.
Evening WURDs host and Citizen contributor James Peterson interviews Citizen Co-founder Larry Platt before the forum begins.
The riveted audience during the forum at Fitler Club.
Tanya Lopez, Michelle Palmer and Diane Mallery
Emily Kropp and Katie Knipel of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Audience members and candidates after the forum.
Attendee Bill Day, senior vice president at Magid Research.
Ultimate Job Interview attendees Tyra Virden and Elijah Neal.
6abc President/General Manager Bernie Prazenica and 6abc Director of Production Terry Belford.
Livestreaming the event on 6abc.com
Antwyn Robinson and Oscar Lopez of Ceisler Media
L-R: Citizen Co-Executive Director Roxanne Patel Shepelavy; AG candidates Eugene DePasquale and Jack Stollsteimer; Citizen Co-Executive Director Larry Platt; AG candidates Joe Khan, Keir Bradford-Grey and Jared Solomon; interviewers Danielle Ohl, Matt O’Donnell and Marcel Pratt.

MORE ON THE ELECTION FROM THE CITIZEN

Attorney General candidates, l-r: Eugene DePasquale; Jack Stollsteimer; Joe Khan; Keir Bradford-Grey; Jared Solomon. Photo by Germal Pleasant

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