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GOP Attorney General Candidates Spar During Primary Debate

Pennsylvania attorney general candidates York County District Attorney Dave Sunday and state Rep. Craig Williams traded barbs during a televised debate Thursday.

Williams (R-Chester/Delaware) hammered Sunday on various matters, including that he was a Democrat until he changed parties at age 37, while Williams has been a  lifelong Republican. Williams also called him out over his handling of a murder case where a person was wrongly convicted and for the crime rate in York.

As far as the murder case, Sunday told Williams, “Serious lawyers read things called transcripts.” Regarding crime, Sunday said he’d reduced crime. Sunday, who has been the DA for 15 years, was chief deputy prosecutor before being elected. He blamed the city’s proximity to Baltimore for its high crime.

District Attorney Dave Sunday

The state GOP has endorsed Sunday in the race. Asked why Republicans should back him over the party’s pick, Williams replied, “I’m not worried about endorsements because qualifications and winning elections are what matters.”

Williams touted his military experience, both in combat as a JAG officer. He spent 28 years in the Marine Corps, flew 56 combat missions in Desert Storm, and later was deputy legal counsel to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the War on Terror.

“I’ve been fighting for my country my whole life,” said Williams. “Fighting for my community my whole life. Fighting for my state my whole life.”

Asked about Williams’ accusation that Sunday runs the district attorney’s office like a progressive Democrat, Sunday said a group effort with the York police reduced gang violence by 80 percent and homicides by 75 percent.

“I’m a twice-elected DA. I’m a longtime prosecutor, a longtime courtroom prosecutor,” said Sunday. “So, this isn’t for me just coming up with numbers. I have stood in courtrooms, and I have looked at juries, and I have repeatedly asked them to return verdicts that put people in prison for the rest of their lives.”

Wiliams noted the crime problem in Sunday’s jurisdiction. “York is leading the state in murders per 100,000 people. More than Philadelphia, more than Pittsburgh, more than New York City, more than Chicago.”

Asked about a gang shootout at a car wash in York in December and FBI crime statistics showing York is one of the most dangerous small cities in the nation, Sunday said, “York is directly north of Baltimore, and as such, we face challenges that other cities don’t face.”

Both Williams and Sunday would appoint a special prosecutor to fight crime around SEPTA under a law that Williams voted for and Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) signed.

However, Sunday does not support impeaching Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and suggested instead working with Philadelphia residents to “elect a real prosecutor into that role.”

Williams was a House impeachment manager and led the charge against Krasner. He said he has no regrets.

“Philadelphia is under siege, and we’ve got a district attorney there who’s not prosecuting crime,” said Williams. “He’s also committed misbehavior in office,” he said, mentioning a case where a police officer was involved in a “lawful shooting,” but Krasner prosecuted the cop in an effort to overturn the law that protects officers for “the lawful use of force.” Krasner appealed his impeachment. The case is pending in the state Supreme Court.

Asked about violent crime in the state, Williams cited the crime and gun task force in Philadelphia formed from his legislation to authorize the police state and federal officials to work together to go after felons with guns. It could be expanded statewide, he said.

“Overwhelmingly, violent crime is committed by a prior felon in possession of a gun,” said Williams.

Sunday said one of the top causes of crime is the lack of prosecution, “That laws that are on the books are currently not being prosecuted.” He said he works with community leaders, the faith-based community, and the police to bring criminals with guns to justice. He has the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police in York County.

Sunday has worked on racial disparities in the justice system.

“During the summer of George Floyd, I spent as much time as was humanly possible to talk to people in my community and not just talk to people, but listen,” he said. “But listening is really the key. “And through that listening, I discovered we have a community that they firmly believe there are disparities in the criminal justice system. And the only way to fix that is by working together and showing them the true outcomes and why things are done the way they (are).”

Asked about election integrity and tweets by Shapiro, the attorney general in 2020, Sunday said a large part of society believes the state’s elections aren’t free and fair. “I assigned detectives to investigate every criminal election complaint,” he said.

Williams said he found Shapiro “uniquely unserious” in his tweets, mannerisms, and treatment of half of Pennsylvania’s voters who disagreed with the election outcome.

Both candidates would use the death penalty and promised to protect consumers against fraud.

If elected, Williams would focus on gun violence, addiction, and fraud against seniors. Sunday said he would fight the scourge of fentanyl, gang violence, and the mental health crisis and protect seniors.

Williams would tackle “official oppression” or government officials who deny people’s constitutional or statutory rights. Sunday would work on the mental health crisis because many people charged with crimes need treatment for mental illness.

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