The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is often a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion. Perhaps that’s why so many Democrats want to follow in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s footsteps.

Four of the five Democrats running to fill the vacancy created when then-Attorney General Shapiro was elected governor hail from the Delaware Valley: Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, former Bucks County Solicitor Joe Khan, former chief public defender for Philadelphia Keir Bradford-Grey, and Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia).

Pittsburgh Democrat and former two-term Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is also running.

Keir Bradford-Grey

Shapiro appointed Keir Bradford-Grey as chief public defender for Montgomery County. She was later hired to serve as chief defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the state’s largest. She claims to have reformed the office while overseeing a staff of 500 and managing a $50 million budget, according to her website.

She used “a data-driven approach” to make changes in the office to “lay the foundation for effective criminal justice reform.”

During a March 12 debate on ABC 27, Bradford-Grey was asked why Pennsylvanians should vote for her to be attorney general when she’s been a public defender.

“I’m running to be the people’s lawyer,” she said. “And that’s what the attorney general is in every other state other than Pennsylvania. It is the one that protects people at their most basic need. And it makes sure that not only do we take on the people that are harming people on the street corners, but we go after people in the board room…And I have the opportunity to make sure that women have very protected rights in their reproductive systems…no one can fight for women better than a woman.”

DePasquale is a former state legislator and served two-terms as state auditor general.

Eugene DePasquale

In the same debate, DePasquale was asked about being “a professional office seeker.”

“I’ve run statewide twice, and I’ve won twice,” said DePasquale. “I’ve won once when Trump was on the ballot. Why was I able to win? Because people know my record of fighting for Pennsylvania. My investigation found over 300,000 untested rape kits. Working hard, I brought justice to victims.”

Now in private practice, Khan served as Bucks County solicitor. He’s also been an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and a federal prosecutor and has represented municipal, county, and state governments. Khan is the brother of state Rep. Tarik Khan (D-Philadelphia).

Khan lost a primary in 2017 to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and during the debate, he was asked about his electability.

“This isn’t about just winning the Democratic primary but winning the general election,” said Khan. “And this is a really, really tough election for Democrats to win.” Only two Democrats have ever won the attorney general’s race, he said. “Because they have painted the Democratic nominee as being soft on crime.” But before becoming the Bucks County solicitor, Khan said, he was a “career prosecutor.”

Joe Khan

Solomon worked in private practice, then joined the Army Reserves as a JAG officer and currently serves in the Pennsylvania National Guard. He was elected to the state House in 2016, beating a 42-year incumbent.

Solomon, who is running for both offices simultaneously, was told the “good government activists say ‘run for one.'”

“I protected us from Trump Republicans who are threatening our abortion and voting rights,” said Solomon. “I want to be your next attorney general because I want to protect our fundamental rights.”

Stollsteimer has twice been elected district attorney for Delaware County. He was hired as an assistant district attorney in 2000 before becoming a policy analyst and special assistant U.S. attorney for the Project Safe Neighborhoods gun violence initiative in 2001. In 2004, he was appointed assistant U.S. attorney and assigned to lead a gun violence task force.

Rep. Jared Solomon

Both Stollsteimer and Solomon are up on the air with TV ads.

Solomon touts his “A” grade with Planned Parenthood and “F” ranking from the National Rifle Association. Stollsteimer’s ads feature the tagline “You don’t know Jack” and emphasize his record as a DA who brought down crime in the City of Chester.

During the debate, Stollsteimer was asked what he would say to voters who think reducing the prison population by 30 percent is dangerous.

“Anybody who would say that would be completely wrong,” said Stollsteimer, who said they are balancing criminal justice reform with public safety. Delaware County had the only privately run prison in the state when he was elected, and he led the effort to de-privatize it. They’ve reduced the prison population by 40 percent “by keeping low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system and giving the help they need for redemption,” he said.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer

Bruce L. Castor Jr., former Montgomery County district attorney, who served as acting attorney general after Democrat Kathleen Kane was convicted for perjury, agreed the Attorney General’s Office often leads to the governorship in Pennsylvania.

“A reputed centrist candidate from the southeast in either party gives that party a huge leg up in eventually the run for governor.  We have always known this. So, the focus now by statewide political leaders on both sides is on who they are hoping to maneuver to run for governor six years from now,” said Castor. “So, what ‘matters’ is which candidate has the credentials (prosecutor experience both appointed and elected) to be elected attorney general now, has won elections at least at the ‘county’ level from the southeast, where 40 percent of the people live.”

“Naturally, I am a Republican and want Republicans to win,” said Castor. “Looking at all the candidates objectively, however, I see DA Jack Stollsteimer as best at checking off all the boxes.

“If I was analyzing the long-term prospects for the two parties through the “AG” – ‘Almost Governor’ – lens, he’s who I see as best positioned.”

Whichever of these five gets the nod from Democratic primary voters on April 23 will face one of the two Republican candidates in the fall:  Dave Sunday or Rep. Craig Williams.


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