District attorney candidates debate in the Northeast

Democrat Larry Krasner and Republic Beth Grossman debated at Cottage Green before next week’s election.

From the candidates: Democrat Larry Krasner and Republican Beth Grossman discussed issues like the opioid epidemic and sanctuary cities during a debate at the Cottage Green on Oct. 25. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTOS

A pretty good crowd turned out last week at the Cottage Green to hear the two candidates for district attorney outline their platforms.

The Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Victim Service and the Northeast Times sponsored the debate, which consisted of opening and closing statements and questions from a moderator. The city election commissioners’ office had a resource table and brought a voting machine for guests to view.

Democrat Larry Krasner and Republican Beth Grossman squared off on the evening of Oct. 25. A day earlier, former District Attorney Seth Williams, a Democrat, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge.

Common Pleas Court judges in July elected Kelley Hodge to serve the remainder of Williams’ term.

During the debate, Krasner cited his representation of more than 10,000 clients. He described himself as a “change-maker” and gladly accepts the title of outsider, adding that Grossman will merely “tweak” the system. He wants the city to close what he calls the “antiquated” House of Correction.

“I have 30 years in court. That’s a lot of experience,” he said. “That’s how real change happens, a transformational change.”

Grossman pointed to her 21½ years as an assistant district attorney, working in every division of the office and heading the Public Nuisance Task Force, along with a stint as chief of staff for the city Department of Licenses and Inspections. She promised to have a responsive community engagement unit and praised Jackie Coelho, former chief of the DA’s Northeast Bureau.

“I can hit the ground running,” she said.

In a question about so-called safe injection sites for opioid users, Krasner said something has to be done to address the fact that about three people a day die in the city from overdoses. He favors safe injection sites, like ones in Vancouver, Canada, where medical personnel is present and no deaths have been reported.

“It’s an absolute epidemic. I want to save those lives. It is justified. It can be done the right way,” he said.

Grossman’s priority would be to see the state legislature limit the number of legal opioids that can be prescribed, and she would consider a lawsuit against what she called “Big Pharma.” The former head of the DA’s dangerous drug offender unit, she would want to see injection sites legislated and regulated. She favors treatment, but would oppose popup sites.

“You’re saying that neighborhoods don’t matter. I cannot do that,” she said.

Grossman stressed a war on drugs.

“I will never not go after those pushing poison in our neighborhoods,” she said.

On the possible elimination of cash bail in some cases, Grossman said nobody charged with serious crimes such as stalking and domestic violence should be allowed to go free without posting bail.

Krasner said Washington, D.C. has offered no bail for many accused criminals for 30 years, While 12 percent of suspects are held without bail, the other 88 percent have been set free before trial, some with restrictions.

“It’s been an extremely successful system,” he said.

Both candidates claimed they would be able to work well with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Grossman said she has built trust and relationships with officers since she collaborated with them for so many years when she was an assistant district attorney. She’s been endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the transit police and state troopers, among others.

Krasner has spoken with Police Commissioner Richard Ross and his predecessor, Charles Ramsey, and said some retired officers have contacted him, and he is on the same side with them on police reform issues.

On civil asset forfeiture, Grossman said she’d used it in drug cases when appropriate.

“I don’t believe in rewarding drug dealers. I care about our neighborhoods,” she said.

Krasner said forfeiture can be good, but only when there is a conviction. He said the DA’s office overreached when Grossman headed the unit for eight years. He likened some forfeiture decisions to “systemic corruption,” contending that it is mostly poor people who lose their houses, cars and cash.

“Government does not have a right to steal your house,” he said.

As for the death penalty, Grossman said she would pursue it in catastrophic cases, such as the mass murders in Las Vegas and the killing of nine church members in South Carolina by Dylann Roof. Otherwise, she said, the office can save money by avoiding costly death penalty prosecutions that rarely, if ever, lead to an actual execution.

Krasner said death penalty prosecutions can be “extremely racist,” adding that some innocent people on death row have been exonerated, many by the increased availability of DBA. He will not pursue any death penalty cases, and hopes the savings can be used to hire police officers, social workers and teachers.

“It will greatly expedite the system,” he said.

The candidates were asked to name a district attorney, past or present, in Philadelphia or nationwide, they would model their office after.

Grossman said she would build good working relationships with the district attorneys in the state’s 66 other counties.

Krasner pointed to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, calling him a “deep thinker.” Gascon is a former Los Angeles cop and police chief in San Francisco and Mesa, Arizona.

“His platform is as progressive as mine,” he said.

On Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants, Grossman said she’ll uphold state and federal law.

Krasner said the district attorney’s office doesn’t have a sufficient enough budget, adding that federal officials have the information they need on illegals wanted for crimes, and that he will not help the Trump administration in its deportation efforts.

“I’m a believer in sanctuary cities,” he said.

Both candidates believe the DA’s office has too many supervisors and not enough courtroom prosecutors.

“I would radically change the compensation structure,” said Krasner, vowing to identify the “do nothings.”

Both candidates expect to work well with the good people of the DA’s office, the young and the experienced.

“You know who the workers are,” Grossman said.

The candidates credited agencies, such as Northeast Victim Service, that support witnesses and victims.

“I must tip my hat to Northeast Victim Service. They deserve to be so compensated,” Grossman said.

In closing statements, Grossman said she has a passion for the DA’s office and the experience, qualifications and prosecutorial background to run it.

“Take a look at our resumes,” she said.

Krasner said he has more experience than his opponents, and that he’s done a better job than her over the years. He thinks tough talk on crime is a waste of time. He’d rather work with criminologists on issues such as prison reform. If elected, he will work on reform in a city that is tops in poverty and incarceration rates.

“I see a very direct correlation between the two,” he said. ••

To view the debate, go to the Northeast Times Facebook page.