Is this the end of the road for Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner?
In gearing up for the November 2021 election, Krasner is in defense mode regarding his record since assuming office in January 2018. He has even gone out on a limb with his contention that his office “charged and prosecuted gun violence with vigor.”
While Krasner’s use of the word “vigor” may for some hearken back to John F. Kennedy’s frequent use of that word in the early 1960s, the DA’s use of “vigor” raises serious questions.
If anything, Krasner has directed much of his energy as DA in the implementation of a social experiment rather than focusing on gun violence and on the perpetuators of gun violence in the city. Evidence of this can be found on the DA’s website where the focus is on preventing wrongful convictions, implementing “robust gun control,” and a promise to “Protect Democracy,” whereby [Krasner’s] office would see to it that “campaigns designed to undermine faith in our democratic process” will be “actively combated.”
Noble ideals about protecting democracy and the right of the disenfranchised to vote will always get audiences to cheer, especially when those promises are capped with a caveat to root out bad police officers. But the design of Krasner’s social experiment is so vast –-including support for victims and survivors of crime while calling for blight remediation in impoverished neighborhoods, the breeding ground of criminals—that many view it as nothing more than a blueprint for a social revolution that puts the epidemic of gun violence in the city on a par with bad police officers.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Philadelphia’s homicide rate has gone up every year Krasner has served as D.A.
Krasner’s policies have inspired impassioned Fire Krasner pages on Facebook and other social media, but big-time progressive donors like John Legend and Zillow Founder Richard Barton are lining up to support him in May’s 2021 Democratic primary and in November’s general election. Krasner has already caught the eye of Hollywood with an Independent Lens docuseries on his time as Philadelphia DA. The docuseries– a Sundance Official Selection award-winner that will be broadcast on WHYY after the November election– caused one film critic to remark that the portrait of Krasner presented is “largely reverent and uncritical.” Meanwhile, on the Fire Larry Krasner Facebook page, Republicans are urging fellow Republicans to switch their party affiliation to Democrat so they can vote for Carlos Vega, the assistant DA whom Krasner fired when he assumed office in 2018.
Vega has considerable support among many hard line Democrats, especially in the city’s neighborhoods where people tend to support the police. Resistance to Krasner is even growing among state and city Democrats. A good example of this is Governor Wolf’s signature on a bill passed by Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature to allow the state attorney general to prosecute some gun crimes that Krasner ignores.
While Vega’s campaign has picked up steam, the question is whether it will go far enough to topple Krasner, who now has deep Hollywood connections. Yet as shooting deaths in the city mount in their gruesome theatricality—students killed while walking their dogs; children and mothers snuffed out in crossfire gang warfare—frustration at Krasner’s policies will continue to grow. But will it be enough to unseat him?
Republican challenger A. Charles Peruto, Jr. is gambling on that prospect. No stranger to Philadelphia’s crime world, Peruto– called an “audacious attorney” by The New York Daily News– has defended the likes of serial killer Gary Heidnik and city mobsters Joey Merlino and Nicodemo. Although the deeds of some of Peruto’s clients might raise eyebrows —he stated that Gilbert Newton III’s stabbing of girlfriend Morgan McCaffery more than 30 times at an Abington train station in July 2020 was “a case of manslaughter”—the “audacious attorney” is adamant when he says that Krasner’s progressive policies “are dangerous for Philadelphia.”
Peruto’s message is succinct and clear and avoids the grandstanding rhetoric of a social experiment: “Reduce gun violence in the city.”
Peruto advocates the aggressive prosecution of drug dealers, mandatory sentencing for drug-motivated crimes, and he wants judges to hand out stiff sentences for people charged with illegal gun possession or firing a gun.
Peruto told Delaware Valley Journal that because of Philadelphia’s gun epidemic, he would bring back stop and frisk “to fight for our safety.”
“Liberties must always be temporarily suspended during war,” Peruto stated. Regarding the upcoming November election, he fully expects Krasner to level a full fledged attack with “millions of dollars of ads,” but adds that he doesn’t think Krasner would do well in a debate with him because the city’s grim gun statistics are not on the DA’s side.
“Let’s see how he holds up in a debate, “ Peruto said. “Of course he will claim he has vigorously prosecuted gun cases. However, his record is public.” Peruto said he stands ready to counter any Krasner charge with “100 glaring examples”
Asked if a Vega primary win in May would take the wind out of his sails in November, Peruto stated, “Yes it would. It’s not about me. It’s about the safety of Philadelphians. Carlos can accomplish the same goal as me.”
As for Krasner, the DA has stated that the November election is going to be a referendum on his performance. “Do you like the past? Do you like the future? I think Philadelphians are pretty clear on what they want.”
And the gun violence they don’t want, of course.