PHILADELPHIA – The overwhelming major Democratic victory on Tuesday of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose opponent tried to label him as crime-friendly, was a major step forward in the growing progressive law enforcement movement, the leader of which Mr Krasner said is criminal justice reform.
With some ballots left to count, Mr Krasner won by nearly 50,000 votes out of about 160,000 votes cast, indicating that despite the surge in violent crime, voters were willing to stick to a candidate who was prosecuting multiple categories of Lowest-Level Crime and had pledged to keep changing the system it claimed to imprison too many people for too many petty crimes.
“We hear all these conversations about how progressive law enforcement somehow cannot survive,” Krasner said in his victory speeches on Tuesday evening. “I don’t see that. What I am seeing is that traditional law enforcement cannot survive. “
As in his first campaign, in which he competed against six other candidates, Mr. Krasner gained significant support from black voters in the north and west of the city. These neighborhoods were hardest hit by gun violence and were places where his opponent Carlos Vega, a former murder prosecutor who was fired by Mr Krasner when he took office in 2018, had hoped to make progress.
Ben Waxman, a Philadelphia political advisor and former communications director to Mr Krasner, said Mr Krasner has maintained support from white progressives in addition to the black vote.
“It was really a combination of those two things that came together that gave them the grand total, with the black voters really in the driver’s seat,” said Waxman.
Kim Frazier, 58, a black domestic worker who lives in West Philadelphia, said she was impressed with Mr. Krasner’s commitment to freeing people who have been falsely convicted. She was not convinced of Mr. Vegas’ attempt to blame him for an increase in violent crime. “He’s doing the best he can,” she said. “He can’t be everywhere at the same time.”
In an interview on Wednesday, 60-year-old Krasner said elected officials are only a small part of a larger cultural movement for criminal justice reform and the reduction of incarceration.
“We need to recognize that there is an arc of progress here,” he said. “This election itself is another very positive sign that a broad social movement is taking place here with the support of the population, which cannot be reversed due to a cheap policy of scaremongering.”
Mr Krasner’s decisive victory could help stimulate prosecutor candidates with a similar agenda. With some evidence, they can now argue that views on criminal justice, at least in various urban areas, are unlikely to return to their positions 10 years ago and that the election and re-election of prosecutors like Kim Foxx in Chicago and Marilyn in Mosby Baltimore are no aberrations.
During his campaign, Mr Krasner argued that a 40 percent increase in Philadelphia killings last year had nothing to do with his politics, pointing to cities with more traditional prosecutors that had seen similar trends during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Krasner does not pursue some low-level crimes such as drug possession and prostitution and has requested more lenient sentences than his predecessors.
Mr Vega, 64, confirmed his loss in a tweet just before midnight on Tuesday, saying, “It looks like we didn’t get the result we wanted tonight, but even if we lose, we have grace and smile.” He thanked his supporters and expressed his own support for crime victims.
Enthusiasm for a race with a low turnout remained high. The city reported Wednesday that more than 160,000 people had voted for the district attorney, about 5,000 more than in Mr Krasner’s first election.
Mr Krasner’s nomination wasn’t the only win for the Progressives in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Eight judicial candidates, supported by Reclaim Philadelphia, a local progressive group that knocked on doors for Mr. Krasner and others, appeared to be winning elections.
Mr Vega argued during his campaign that the leniency of Mr Krasner’s policies had led to an increase in crime, but criminologists said there was no way to prove these allegations.
David S. Abrams, a professor of law and economics at the University of Pennsylvania who tracked crime statistics across the country last year, said any theory must account for both the rise in murders and shootings and the overall decline in crime, at least until 2020.
Mr Vega received ample support from the police, whose powerful union poured tens of thousands of dollars into its campaign and toasted Mr Krasner at every opportunity for being anti-crime.
In addition to sticking to his campaign promise not to prosecute low-level crimes, Mr Krasner ran his record of reducing the number of people in the city’s prison by more than 30 percent.
This approach earned him voter approval but also significant criticism, particularly from former prosecutors and even some of his own former employees. Thomas Mandracchia, who worked for Mr. Krasner for about two years, said the district attorney’s insistence on the dismissal of so many skilled attorneys contributed to a disorganized office.
In November’s general election, Mr Krasner meets Charles Peruto Jr., a Republican defender who campaigns for a strong public safety message, declaring that it is more important than civil rights. Mr Peruto has called Mr Krasner’s tenure “a shame” and said he would drop out of the race if Mr Vega won the primary.
Sam Johnson, 34, a filmmaker who stood up for Mr. Krasner, was typical of white progressives who stood by the incumbent.
“The crimes he prosecuted are the things people want to prosecute,” said Mr. Johnson, who is white and lives on the South Philadelphia section of Point Breeze. “He prosecuted violent crimes but did not pursue many of the minor arrests.”
Nevertheless, he was surprised that Mr. Krasner won so decisively.
“That the Democratic Party would not support him and that so many organizations, including the fraternal police force, were supporting another candidate – we were concerned,” he said. “I thought it was getting a lot closer.”