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Krasner becomes Philly DA: 'A movement was sworn in today'

Once considered a radical addition to a field of former prosecutors and government officials, career civil rights attorney Larry Krasner took the oath of office on Jan. 2, 2018, to become Philadelphia District Attorney.

Larry Krasner takes the oath off office from his wife, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa M. Rau, at the Kimmel Center, as their son, Nathan, holds a Bible. Afterward, some in the audience chanted, "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!"
Larry Krasner takes the oath off office from his wife, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa M. Rau, at the Kimmel Center, as their son, Nathan, holds a Bible. Afterward, some in the audience chanted, "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!"Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

For the first time in his decades-long legal career, Larry Krasner is a prosecutor.

The 56-year-old lawyer — who built a reputation in Philadelphia by suing the government and defending activists and protesters — was sworn in Tuesday as district attorney, promising to bring sweeping changes to an office he described as "off the rails" during his campaign to lead it.

"A movement was sworn in today," Krasner said after taking the oath of office at the Kimmel Center. "A movement for criminal justice reform that has swept Philadelphia … and is sweeping the United States."

Once considered a radical addition to a field of former prosecutors and government officials seeking the office, Krasner — who earned convincing victories in the Democratic primary and the general election — takes on overseeing about 600 employees in one of the busiest prosecutor's offices in the nation.

He has promised to end use of the death penalty, seek to end use of cash bail, and reduce the number of people behind bars.

He reiterated those goals during his inaugural address, saying he wanted to begin "trading jails — and death row — for schools," "trading jail cells occupied by people suffering from addiction for treatment and harm reduction," and "trading division between police and the communities they serve for unity and reconciliation."

His swearing-in highlighted an inauguration ceremony for several city positions that was attended by Mayor Kenney, members of City Council, and state and federal legislators and other elected officials.

Rebecca Rhynhart — who like Krasner has said she is part of a new Democratic movement in a city long controlled by an old guard — took the oath of office as city controller, the first woman to hold the position. More than 20 Common Pleas Court and Municipal Court judges also were sworn in.

"Philadelphia is changing, and people want more from their government," Rhynhart said. "People want change."

Rhynhart, 43, who defeated incumbent Alan Butkovitz in the Democratic primary before securing a general election victory, vowed to use her role as the city's top fiscal manager to probe potential waste or mismanagement at agencies including the Parking Authority, which has been engulfed in scandal.

She also said she wanted to help diversify city government and wash away the "mediocrity and corruption we see every day."

"We need to show the people of Philadelphia that our leaders will be just as good as the residents here," she said, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Krasner received the most enthusiastic response from the crowd. People rose to their feet as his wife, Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa M. Rau, swore him in. He placed his hand on a Bible held by their son, Nathan, 26. When that was finished, some in the audience briefly chanted, "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!"

Kenney, in a line that led to cheers from those in the audience, said Krasner's background as a public defender and civil rights attorney made him "the right man for this job at the right time."

Krasner grew up in St. Louis and the Philadelphia suburbs, the son of a crime-fiction author and an evangelical Christian minister. He graduated from the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School, then worked in Philadelphia as a federal public defender before opening his own practice in 1993.

He was part of a team of lawyers who defended about 400 protesters arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, has represented Black Lives Matter activists, and has sued law enforcement or the government on behalf of clients 75 times.

His candidacy — which was supported by liberal billionaire George Soros and was credited with pulling his competitors further to the political left — rankled the police union. John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, was a frequent critic, and a group of former assistant district attorneys also raised concerns during the race.

But McNesby softened his rhetoric after Krasner's victory in the general election. And Krasner has said he is optimistic that the rank-and-file will support him and his agenda.

He assumes an office that has been plagued by turmoil in recent years. Former District Attorney Seth Williams pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges last year and resigned, leading to the appointment of interim District Attorney Kelley Hodge.

But the mood at the inauguration Tuesday was largely celebratory and divorced from such news. Krasner repeatedly addressed the crowd as "family" and happily embraced his wife and applauded with the crowd after finishing his speech.

When practicing the swearing-in before the crowd arrived, Rau asked him how he was feeling. "Terrified," Krasner joked. "Just kidding."

Still, he may have quickly gotten a taste of life as an elected official. Almost as soon as the proceedings were over, a small group of Black Lives Matter protesters demanded that he make a statement about a fatal police shooting in East Germantown last month — and threatened to "shut down" the city if he didn't.

Krasner, speaking briefly with reporters before leaving for a family lunch, said he needed to evaluate the facts before drawing conclusions about any shootings by police.

He was in the District Attorney's Office by afternoon, and addressed employees at staff meetings.