Rich Negrin, Philadelphia's managing director under Mayor Michael A. Nutter, is exploring a challenge to District Attorney Seth Williams in the 2017 Democratic primary.
Williams, seeking a third term in the May 16 primary, has been beset with controversy, including a federal investigation of his campaign spending and a revelation in August that he failed to properly disclose $160,050 in gifts in the last five years.
"The District Attorney's Office deserves to have principled, ethical leadership," Negrin said Thursday.
Negrin, 50, also said Williams, first elected in 2009, has been "tinkering around the edges" of office reforms.
"Because we are Philadelphia, we should have an innovative and progressive district attorney's office," Negrin said.
Negrin, a partner at the law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, said his decision on whether to launch a campaign will come in a few weeks.
If he runs, Negrin will have some high-powered political finance heft.
Thomas Leonard, chairman of Negrin's firm, signed on as chairman of his political action committee, according to documents filed with the Department of State last week. Leonard has decades of political fund-raising experience for candidates such as former President Bill Clinton and former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Richard Glazer, a lawyer who served as chairman of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, will act as Negrin's PAC treasurer. Negrin was vice chairman of the ethics board during part of Glazer's tenure.
Negrin's wife, Karen McRory-Negrin, submitted her resignation on Wednesday as assistant chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office Juvenile Court Unit. She plans to leave the office next month, Negrin said.
Negrin, who lives in East Falls, was an assistant district attorney from 1995 to 2000, serving on the staff with Williams under District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham.
"I've always loved the office," Negrin said. "It's where I began my career. It's where I met my wife."
Negrin said he didn't know Williams well when they worked together but had a "decent working relationship" with him when Williams became district attorney and Negrin was managing director.
Negrin's parents fled Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba in 1961. His father, who met with Castro in 1978 to negotiate the release of political prisoners, was assassinated in Union City, N.J., in 1979 by anti-Castro terrorists who mistook him for a communist sympathizer. Negrin, then 13, witnessed his father's murder.
Negrin was an All-American football player at Wagner College in New York and briefly signed with two NFL teams before heading to Rutgers University for law school.
Negrin would be the second former assistant district attorney in the race.
Joe Khan, who served in the office and went on to become an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, resigned that post in September to become Williams' first challenger.
Williams has been under political siege since August 2015, when the Inquirer first reported that the FBI and IRS, working with a federal grand jury, had subpoenaed documents from the political action committee he used to run for district attorney in 2005, 2009, and 2011.
That scrutiny intensified this August when Williams amended his statements of financial interests for 2010 to 2015, listing $160,050 in previously unreported gifts.
Those gifts included $45,000 for a roof and other home repairs, airfare and lodgings for vacations, $800 in cash from his security detail, Eagles sideline passes, and $6,000 in tickets and gift cards from a defense attorney who later was elected judge with Williams' support.
A spokesman for the District Attorney's Office confirmed in August that federal agents had interviewed members of Williams' staff.
Also, the Second Chance Foundation, a nonprofit Williams founded in 2011, received a federal subpoena for financial documents in August.
Williams declined to comment about Negrin.
Dan Fee, a spokesman for Williams' campaign, said in an email: "The district attorney remains focused on doing the job the people of Philadelphia have twice overwhelmingly elected him to do and will turn his attention toward politics when it's time to do so."
Speaking at a campaign fund-raiser he held in a Center City cigar bar last month, Williams insisted there was "no quid pro quo" involved in the gifts but vowed going forward to stop accepting them.
"I'm very apologetic to my supporters, to my employees and to my friends, and to the citizens of Philadelphia for having accepted gifts because of the appearance of impropriety that it has for the district attorney," Williams said. "While nothing I did was illegal, it still has the air - I get it, I understand - of impropriety for people."