We’ve entered the politics-as-judo phase of the Democratic primary for Philadelphia district attorney.
Challenger Carlos Vega is trying to turn a strength of incumbent Larry Krasner’s — a geographically diverse base of contributors — into a weakness.
Vega, an assistant district attorney for decades before Krasner fired him in 2018, raised $131,412 in the last three weeks of 2020, according to campaign-finance reports filed this week. Krasner raised nearly $162,000 in all of 2020.
Krasner had $166,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31, compared with nearly $130,000 for Vega. Krasner’s campaign on Thursday said that number is now more than $300,000, suggesting campaign cash has started to flow more freely in the new year. Vega’s campaign declined to provide a current total.
But back to the judo.
Vega campaign manager Trevor Maloney crunched the numbers and found that more than 78% of his guy’s money came from Philly residents. By contrast, 75% of Krasner’s 2020 cash came from outside Pennsylvania, he said.
Maloney’s take: People directly affected by Krasner’s policies are voting with their wallets for Vega.
Krasner campaign manager Brandon Evans said the district attorney “enjoys broad support, locally and nationally.”
“We are also supported by those who lack money but show up at the ballot box, as those most impacted by the criminal justice system and abusive police practices often lack the means to contribute to campaigns,” Evans told Clout. “That doesn’t make their voices less important.”
A couple of lessons from 2017 come to mind.
Krasner, a longtime civil rights attorney and political novice who first ran on criminal justice reform, raised about $320,000 before winning the 2017 seven-candidate primary. That put him in the middle of the pack for resources.
And money isn’t everything. Another 2017 candidate, Michael Untermeyer, invested $1.3 million of his own money in that race and finished a distant fifth.
The key is outside money, and how it is spent. An independent political action committee funded with nearly $1.7 million from billionaire George Soros supported Krasner’s 2017 election. Soros, a philanthropist, has spent millions backing progressive, reform-minded candidates since 2015.
A spokesperson for that PAC, dormant since late 2017, didn’t respond to requests for comment. We know Soros has circled back to help reelect candidates he propelled into office. He invested $2 million last year to help Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx win a second term in Chicago after backing her in 2016.
Another unanswered question: Protect Our Police PAC, an anti-Krasner group started by retired Philadelphia police officers, still hasn’t filed a campaign-finance report.
So you want to be a judge in Philly
That steady rumble you hear is a stampede of attorneys running for Common Pleas or Municipal Court judge in Philadelphia this year.
There are eight open Common Pleas seats and three for Municipal Court. Expect to see several candidates file for both courts in a process that runs more on luck and influence than policy and jurisprudence.
The Philadelphia Bar Association said 29 attorneys have submitted information, hoping to secure the coveted title of “recommended.” That’s not an endorsement from the group. And plenty of judges won without being recommended.
Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, said 22 lawyers made their pitches for the party’s endorsement last week. The party’s Policy Committee was set to consider endorsements Thursday evening.
History shows many candidates will drop out if they don’t win an endorsement. More will end their campaigns when positions on the ballot are determined via a lottery. A top ballot position is crucial since few voters know much about the candidates. A low position can kill a campaign.
No Black attorneys were elected as judges in 2019, despite two winning Democratic endorsements. That caused consternation, still evident as former Common Pleas Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson, who retired last month after 37 years on the bench, offered advice this week to would-be candidates in a Facebook Live event organized by City Commissioner Omar Sabir.
Noting that about a third of the seats on both courts are held by people of color, she urged candidates to find ways to get their faces known to voters. “A photo is worth 1,000 words,” Massiah-Jackson said.
Brady on Thursday predicted that “at least five” Black attorneys will win his party’s endorsement for one of the two local courts, though he is leaving it up to ward leaders to decide which candidates get the nod.
The world according to Joe Gale
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale has a theory about how Bruce Castor landed as a last-minute addition to former President Donald Trump’s legal team as the Senate prepares for an unprecedented second impeachment trial: It’s all about Gale.
He declared this week that fellow Republican Castor, a former Montgomery County commissioner and district attorney, was being propped up by “the Pennsylvania GOP swamp” to harm Gale’s political future.
“Political insiders are in panic-mode that I will run for Governor or U.S. Senate in 2022,” said Gale, accusing those unnamed insiders of “resurrecting” Castor’s career to “offset my growing popularity.”
This isn’t the first time the controversial Gale has suggested sinister GOP forces are after him. He tried to run for Lieutenant Governor in 2018, but a judge ruled him ineligible as a candidate because the state Constitution limits eligibility for that office to citizens “who shall have attained the age of 30 years.” Gale, who was 28 when he announced his candidacy and when he was removed from the ballot, would have been two months shy of 30 at the start of the lieutenant governor’s term in early 2019.
Gale then accused the judge of doing “the dirty work” of “the GOP establishment swamp.”
Staff writer Laura McCrystal contributed to this column.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the reason Gale was removed from the ballot The judge did not rule he was two years shy of a requirement to be a candidate.