During her 21 years in Philadelphia's District Attorney's Office, Beth Grossman went after drug dealers, gunslingers, thieves, and blighters. Her most moving reflections during a recent meeting with the Editorial Board showed passion for defending the rights of crime victims, both those who are the objects of criminal acts and those who are trapped in neighborhoods besieged by violence and neglect.
That clear vision of who the district attorney's clients are makes a compelling case for her candidacy. Her prosecutorial and administrative experience, thoughtfulness, and flexibility seal the deal.
Grossman, 49, of East Falls, is running as a Republican against Democratic nominee Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney who says he wants to turn the DA's Office on its head. He rightly argues that it spends too many resources going after the poor and disenfranchised, and not enough on those who victimize Philadelphians. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-1, he's the favorite to win.
Krasner began his career as a federal public defender and has been a figure in the city's social justice movement, representing advocates for gun control, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and environmentalists. That commitment is commendable. But voters should be concerned about his lack of prosecutorial experience — and mindset — needed to head an office whose job is to prosecute crime.
In contrast, Grossman is a career prosecutor. She's worked in every division of the office and has a strong administrative background, having headed divisions within in and served as chief of staff at the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
But she also headed the DA's Public Nuisance Task Force, which so abused the civil forfeiture law that a federal lawsuit forced change. Under that program, people not even accused of a crime lost their houses and cars because of alleged actions by family members. She says she was following the rules at that time, and that now she would not take property unless the owner was convicted of a crime. That's the right answer.
Fixing the damage done by disgraced former DA Seth Williams, who in June pleaded guilty to bribery, will depend on a strong leader to provide continuity, and commitment to the progress the office has made in recent years. For example, she would reignite the focused deterrent program, which broke up gangs by combining street intelligence with coordinated enforcement.
Grossman's tough, independent streak should also help her keep her promise to prosecute dirty politicians. In the last three years, 15 Democratic officeholders were found guilty on corruption charges, including Williams.
Refreshingly, she would pursue gun charges, which are too often dropped in plea bargains. She would wisely avoid trivial cases like small marijuana busts, which waste resources.
And, Grossman has compassion for the accused. She understands that strong reentry programs reduce recidivism and that high bails discriminate against lower-income defendants. She promises to revive the office's wrongful conviction unit and has a welcome hesitancy to go for the death penalty.