Lights, camera ... literature?
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner — already the subject of a documentary series dubbed Philly DA that will premiere next month at the Sundance Film Festival — is about to tell his own story in a new book set to hit shelves this year: a memoir.
The forthcoming tome, titled For the People, is scheduled for release April 20 — about a month before Philadelphia’s Democratic primary. Krasner is seeking reelection against challenger Carlos Vega, a former homicide prosecutor whom Krasner fired when he took over in 2018.
Krasner declined this week to discuss the 336-page book, or how he managed to write it during his nearly four years in office, which have featured a variety of policy changes, public feuds, high-profile prosecutions, and rising levels of gun violence in the city.
Jessica Brand, a spokesperson for Krasner’s literary effort, said that he wrote it on his own time, without using office resources, and that writing it did not impact Krasner’s “unprecedented levels of direct involvement in policy and the supervision of major cases in his office.”
“Some people watch sports or play golf in their private time — Larry wrote a book,” she said.
The description says the book will “follow Krasner’s lifelong journey through the streets and courtrooms and election precincts” and offer “a larger exploration of how power and injustice conspired to create a carceral state unprecedented in the world.” It says the story runs until his swearing-in ceremony in 2018, and Brand said the book “is not about his time in office.”
Krasner, who has become a national figure among criminal justice observers during his tenure, isn’t a complete stranger to the literary world. His father was an author and freelance writer, and as DA, Krasner has penned op-ed submissions for various news outlets, including The Inquirer. He has also criticized the media — again, including The Inquirer — even as he has frequently spoken to local and national news outlets.
Vega’s campaign manager, Trevor Maloney, is not likely to have his opinion included on the book jacket.
“Philadelphians would be better served if they had a DA who focused more on keeping us safe than seeking fame,” he said.
There are few recent examples of Philadelphia elected officials moonlighting as authors while in office, and certainly none who did so around the same time a documentary about them was set to make its national debut. (Two parts of the eight-episode Philly DA series will premiere in February; the rest will be released some time later this year on PBS, according to a spokesperson for the film.)
The late Arlen Specter, who was the city’s DA before he became a U.S. senator in 1981, released a memoir in 2008 describing his battle with cancer. That book, his second, came ahead of Specter’s own contentious reelection battle in 2010, a race he lost after switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
Krasner hasn’t been shy about denouncing his predecessors, including Specter, for attempting to use the position of DA to advance their personal images and political careers.
In 2017, after he won the Democratic primary, Krasner told an interviewer with Democracy Now that everyone who had been DA in Philadelphia over the previous 30 years had been “mostly running for higher office. It has been, to a very large extent, an exercise of ego.”
In the UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review in 2019, Krasner derided what he called the rise of the “celebrity district attorney,” saying it helped fuel a culture in which prosecutors burnished their reputations by putting more people behind bars — unnecessarily swelling the prison population and damaging society in the process — and then promoting themselves as tough on crime.
“What happened with district attorneys is they weren’t high-profile figures, they were just people who prosecuted until a certain point when it became useful on their resume — if you wanted to be President of the United States — to have been a prosecutor somewhere,” he said. “And that brought us to the position where you had people in district attorney’s offices who didn’t really want the job — which I do — but wanted instead to use it as a springboard to run for something else.”
Krasner hasn’t publicly expressed interest in higher office, and Brand said he “intends to remain the Philly D.A. and has no interest in another political office.” Interest groups have nonetheless floated his name for a variety of national positions.
He has waded into the broader political debate, endorsing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) for president in the 2020 Democratic primary, and speaking out against now-President Joe Biden’s candidacy. He told students at the University of Pennsylvania last year, “The stuff that comes out of [Biden’s] mouth is so dumb,” according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.
Krasner hasn’t publicly said as much about another candidate in that race: Kamala Harris, the former U.S. senator, California attorney general, and onetime DA of San Francisco, who is now vice president.
But Krasner and Harris now have at least two things in common.
Both began their political careers as elected prosecutors.