The general election for Philadelphia’s district attorney is still a few months away, but the candidates agree that summer is no time to get complacent.
Beth Grossman, the Republican candidate, who spent over 21 years as an assistant district attorney, is filling her calendar with events all over the city. Larry Krasner, her Democratic challenger, who is a civil rights lawyer, wants to knock on the door of every marginalized voter he can before Election Day on Nov. 7.
“I don’t want to miss an opportunity, a minute, or have any ‘I should’ves,’ ‘I would’ves,’ ‘I could’ves’ on Nov. 8,” Grossman said to The Philadelphia Jewish Voice about summer campaigning.
For Grossman, campaigning opportunities could be formal, like speaking at forums hosted by millennial activist groups. But she has also dropped by community parties, stopped in at diners and chatted with families at Penn’s Landing.
“I think it’s important to get out and meet as many people as possible,” Grossman said. “I think you really affect people more effectively when somebody can actually meet a candidate.” In addition to the benefit of exposure, hearing citizens’ biggest concerns about their neighborhoods helps shape her platform, she noted.
Grossman’s most memorable campaign story affirmed her belief that the DA’s office must champion victims of crime. On Penn’s Landing, she met a woman who had been badly beaten in her home by a juvenile who was prosecuted by the DA’s office during Grossman’s tenure there. The woman praised Grossman’s colleague, who “made something so unpleasant a little bit more bearable,” Grossman said.
Krasner is also pounding the streets and meeting Philadelphians, but he’s heading for specific zip codes. His campaign works with a criminologist to find — and then visit — neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration. The Democratic candidate said that canvassing in areas with a history of marginalization is in contrast to the traditional strategy of targeting “the doors where you have dependable voters.”
“Simply put, we are going after people who have not been represented and have not participated in democratic elections,” Krasner said to The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.
Although his volunteers will knock on some dependable doors, visiting people who may not be registered to vote or used to political attention is Krasner’s focus. These visits may include registration drives, canvassing with community leaders or visiting local events, like big family reunions.
In one instance, according to Krasner, a volunteer headed to a traditionally low-turnout neighborhood and got a telling response: “A neighbor answered the door and said, ‘This is a neighborhood where politicians don’t even go to lie.'”
In his effort to reach everybody, Krasner said he hasn’t held any events specifically for Jewish constituents and wouldn’t do so for any particular faith, though he has worked with an interfaith clergy organization. Grossman indicated she’d be open to visiting synagogues in some form, possibly through service groups or men’s or women’s groups.
Whether it’s Grossman or Krasner, the future district attorney will take over a position that has recently experienced some dramatic turnover. Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams pled guilty to bribery charges in late June, and was recently replaced by Kelley Hodge, who will serve as interim DA until Krasner or Grossman fills her spot.
When asked for comment on the corruption charges against Williams, both candidates condemned his behavior, but focused instead on their own platforms and selling points.
“It doesn’t matter what party you are if you are a victim or survivor of crime,” said Grossman, who was the single Republican on the primary ballot.
In a largely Democratic city, party affiliation could matter come Election Day. But Grossman pointed to her experience in all sections of the district attorney’s office: “I understand the mechanics of running a large city department,” she said. She also cheerfully cited previous GOP DAs, including Arlen Specter, as proof that “Republican lightning” could strike again.
For her opponent, Specter exemplified former Philly DAs who used the office as a springboard for their careers. Krasner said that whoever wins on November 7 should be “more interested in doing the job than running for higher office.”
Krasner has worked as a defense attorney specializing in civil rights cases since 1993. Although he has no experience in the district attorney’s office, he was inspired to run by observing the deterioration of the criminal justice system through excessive and mandatory sentencing.
When selecting the next district attorney on Election Day, Philadelphians will consider the experience and platforms of both candidates. And something as simple as a knock on the door in July or August might just sway a voter’s decision in November — or at least, that’s what the campaigns are hoping for this summer.