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Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner’s rival tries to pick off a big group behind his win | Clout

Carlos Vega, the former prosecutor challenging Krasner in the Democratic primary, pitched himself to Reclaim Philadelphia as an agent of “real progressive reform.” It was a tough sell.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (left) speaks during a news conference at his office in July 2020. Carlos Vega (right) announces his plans in December 2020 to challenge Krasner in the May 18. Democratic primary election.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (left) speaks during a news conference at his office in July 2020. Carlos Vega (right) announces his plans in December 2020 to challenge Krasner in the May 18. Democratic primary election.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA; TIM TAI / File Photographs

In Philadelphia politics, this was a tough sell.

Carlos Vega, the former career prosecutor challenging District Attorney Larry Krasner in the May 18 Democratic primary, pitched himself to Reclaim Philadelphia as an agent of “real progressive reform.”

Reclaim, a progressive group that has demonstrated a powerful capacity in the last five years to swing races in the city, wasn’t buying it.

A Reclaim committee issued a recommendation ahead of the group’s endorsement meeting Saturday, accusing Vega of wanting to “return to the old policies that Philadelphians categorically rejected in the 2017 election” that put Krasner in office.

“Philadelphians can see through such attempts to shroud his campaign in a progressive veneer,” the committee wrote, recommending Krasner for the endorsement with some praise — but also saying, “He has failed to implement the transformative change needed to dismantle a fundamentally unjust and unequal system.”

Krasner credits Reclaim with playing “a key role” in his victory four years ago, and the race put Reclaim on the map. Krasner campaign manager Brandon Evans piled on, telling Clout, “Vega has claimed to have progressive values, but his history and experience proves otherwise.”

Vega’s campaign did not respond to Clout’s hails for comment.

» READ MORE: A Philly ShopRite magnate goes shopping — for the mayor’s race | Clout

It all looks so different on paper.

In Reclaim questionnaires, Krasner and Vega took similar stances on issues of “white supremacy and patriarchy” creating disparities in the criminal justice system, cash bail being an unjust economic sanction, and the sometimes strained relations between police and the communities they serve.

Krasner crows that his Conviction Integrity Unit “has uncovered decades of police abuse that led to wrongful convictions in this community.” Vega vows to expand that unit.

Clout has seen this sort of message syncing before. Krasner won the seven-candidate primary in 2017, which featured more personality clashes than policy disagreements.

In a long trail of community meetings, debates, and forums before that year’s primary, Krasner and his rivals agreed on ending cash bail for nonviolent offenses, curtailing the controversial policing practice known as stop-and-frisk, supporting the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, emphasizing drug and mental health treatment over prosecution when possible, and pitching programs to help those returning home from prison find training and jobs.

Speaking of the DA’s race ...

Clout told you in January that WHYY viewers will have to wait until after the November general election to watch Philly D.A., an eight-episode documentary series about Krasner’s 2017 campaign and first term.

A spokesperson for the series said that call was made “in order to avoid any potential influence on the campaign process.”

But there is a way to see part of the series locally, before it debuts nationally April 20 on the PBS program Independent Lens.

The Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will hold a virtual screening of the first episode on March 22, followed by a discussion with Krasner, his former spokesperson Ben Waxman, and series codirector Yoni Brook, moderated by civil rights advocate and attorney Rue Landau.

That sounds like a very friendly environment for Krasner to discuss the project, just two months before the primary.

Clout’s sneak peek of the first two episodes found it took a soft-touch approach to Krasner while also giving airtime to his critics, including former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and police union president John McNesby. (Inquirer journalists were interviewed for the series and will appear in some of the episodes.)

Jeff Bartos’ nascent campaign gets a big break

Last time voters saw Main Line real estate developer Jeff Bartos on the campaign trail, he was playing good cop/crazy cop with Scott Wagner, the Republican nominee for governor in 2018.

Wagner shot a video vowing to stomp Gov. Tom Wolf in the face while wearing golf spikes. Bartos, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, was more likely to make a self-deprecating joke and then start talking policy.

Now Bartos is likely to run for U.S. Senate next year. And his nascent campaign just caught a big break. He was headed from Westmoreland County to Altoona on Wednesday when his team told him to drive to Pittsburgh instead. Tucker Carlson wanted to talk.

Bartos told Clout he’s not sure how he came to the attention of Carlson’s Fox News program. But he spent the last three minutes of the hour-long show Wednesday evening touting the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, a program he helped develop that has doled out $3.3 million in loans in 10 months to more than 1,000 small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

The Senate race didn’t come up. But that sort of national platform has incredible value when it comes to name recognition and fund-raising. Bartos tweeted about the show four hours before he appeared, again 20 minutes before his interview, and then twice more after it was over.

Bartos followed a segment where Carlson wailed about the culture war “canceling” of Dr. Seuss. (Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the late author’s work, announced that six of his books will be pulled from print because of racist and insensitive imagery.)

Bartos told Clout reaction to his appearance has been “overwhelming,” with people calling and texting to offer congratulations.

“I was grateful to get the call and for the opportunity to tell our story,” he said.

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.