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Philly DA Larry Krasner won’t debate his Republican challenger, calling it ‘a waste of time’

Krasner refused to debate Chuck Peruto before the Nov. 2 general election, taking a two-day, circuitous path to acknowledging the snub.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in July.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in July.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

As a Republican running in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Chuck Peruto knows he’s a long shot to defeat Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s bid for a second term.

He won’t even get to share a stage with the incumbent.

Krasner this week refused to debate Peruto before the Nov. 2 general election, taking a two-day, circuitous path to acknowledging the Peruto snub.

First, Krasner told Clout he hadn’t received an invitation to debate, suggested it would be “a waste of time,” but still sounded open to the idea.

Hearing that, Peruto produced an Aug. 11 letter he sent Krasner challenging him to debate.

Then came a game of hot potato. Krasner’s campaign told Clout to talk to the District Attorney’s Office, which suggested we should talk to Krasner’s campaign, which then declared there would be no debate.

Peruto saw all this coming, writing to Krasner last month that he had heard there would be no debate. Peruto said a one-on-one would give voters “as much information as possible in order to make an informed judgement.”

“I realize that you’re way ahead in the polls, and you may decide to just throw this letter in the trash, but deep inside you know that’s not you,” Peruto wrote.

Krasner makes no secret about looking past Peruto. In our first conversation Tuesday, he declared his second term “already won.” He said much the same to supporters on the night he defeated Carlos Vega in the May Democratic primary by a 2-1 ratio.

» READ MORE: How Philly DA Larry Krasner won — and won big

Krasner and Vega met for one fiery televised debate before the primary. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-1, Krasner has decided that’s all the campaigning he needs.

“Would it be a waste of time? Yeah, it would be a waste of time to do that,” Krasner said Tuesday when asked about debates. “In a time of citywide and national crisis, I think my day job is much more important, frankly, than putting time into a campaign.”

Still, he left it open as a possibility Tuesday and again Wednesday after Clout noted Peruto’s letter was waiting for an answer.

Then his campaign closed the door, noting that Krasner, Vega, and Peruto had appeared together in a series of virtual town-hall meetings before the primary. Those were not debates, but Krasner’s campaign would rather focus on a collection of controversial statements Peruto made in those town halls than have their candidate face him now.

Peruto, who claims to be getting the inside dope from assistant district attorneys, thinks that worries Krasner.

“He knows I possess a wealth of information, from his own assistants, and can’t have that aired,” Peruto told Clout after hearing the verdict.

There’s political precedent for this. Mayor Jim Kenney flatly refused to acknowledge the existence of Republican challenger Billy Ciancaglini, let alone debate him, before his 2019 reelection. Kenney won with more than 80% of the vote.

Krasner (sort of) backs Shapiro for governor

Speaking of the district attorney, he discussed his past dustups with Kenney, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain while meeting Tuesday with The Inquirer’s Editorial Board.

McSwain, a Republican from West Chester, declared his candidacy for governor the day before. Shapiro, a Democrat from Abington, is his party’s only real contender for the nomination as of now, even though he hasn’t actually launched a campaign.

Krasner knocked Shapiro as “a centrist or conservative Democrat who says he’s progressive.” And then he offered a halfhearted endorsement of sorts.

“He’s obviously not a progressive,” Krasner said. “Will I vote for him, as opposed to Bill McSwain, if he is the only Democrat? Absolutely. Will I support him? Absolutely.”

» READ MORE: More Clout: Ed Rendell is targeting the ‘Treason Caucus’ in Congress — including Scott Perry and Jeff Van Drew

Shapiro spokesperson Will Simons responded that “this shouldn’t be about labels” and that the attorney general is focused on “keeping our communities safe and making our criminal justice system more fair.”

Krasner demurred when Clout asked if there’s another Democrat he would prefer in the race.

“There’s almost always someone I would rather see running for almost every elected office when I vote,” he said.

Scott Wagner casts Joe Biden as Taliban’s guy

Some people take to Twitter to make political statements. Others erect 15 billboards.

Scott Wagner, former state senator from York County and 2018 Republican nominee for governor, was so upset with President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan that he spent $15,000 on billboards along I-83 near York and around central Pennsylvania.

“Making the Taliban Great Again,” read the billboards, spotted by the York Dispatch, with a photo of Biden photoshopped into a turban and holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Wagner paid to keep the billboards up for two months.

”I think my message is my message and I think it’s pretty clear,” Wagner told Clout. “I can’t imagine anyone who would be upset.”

PennDot has heard some concerns. But the billboards are privately owned and advertising content is generally protected by the First Amendment.

“While we understand the message on the Interstate 83 billboard may be unpleasant to some, it is our understanding that the message is legal,” spokesperson Fritzi Schreffler said. “As such, the Department has no basis to require this message be changed.”

Staff writer Ellie Rushing contributed to this article.

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