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A sneak peek at the new documentary on Philly DA Larry Krasner: ‘We’re here because we’re different’

Clout got an early look at a new series that will air starting in April — just before Krasner faces reelection in the Democratic primary.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in October.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in October.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, meeting with top aides after taking office in January 2018, said he would no longer prosecute people for sex work or possessing small amounts of illegal drugs.

In a tone-setting scene near the start of Philly D.A., a documentary series about his 2017 campaign and first term in office, Krasner urges his team to move swiftly to avoid “falling in the pit” of how other government agencies are stymied by meetings and committees.

“We’re here because we’re different than that,” Krasner says. “A lot of the entrenched power in the city around these issues believes in these things based on ideas they formed 25 years ago, right? And they are going to attack us for doing different things. And then we make decisions we have to own, for better or worse.”

Clout previewed the first two episodes of the series, a behind-the-scenes view as Krasner, a longtime civil rights and defense attorney, faced constant tension with the prosecutors and police officers he spent three decades fighting in court. The series premieres Tuesday and Wednesday at the Sundance Film Festival and will air nationally, starting April 20, on the PBS program Independent Lens.

That happens to be the same day Krasner’s new book, For the People, comes out — just a month before he appears on the ballot in the Democratic primary.

A spokesperson for the series said WHYY, the local PBS station, will delay broadcasting it “until after the November 2021 municipal elections in order to avoid any potential influence on the campaign process.” The series will still be available on PBS streaming apps.

Halfway through the opening hour-long episode, Krasner holds his first staff meeting, trying to strike a tricky balance between promising reform and not criticizing the work of the people in front of him. A large audience of assistant district attorneys sit, wary and stone-faced, offering faint applause.

The camera finds one face, veteran homicide prosecutor Carlos Vega, who had previously defeated Krasner in court. In the next series of scenes, Krasner cleans house, firing 31 prosecutors during his first week. Vega, now challenging Krasner in the primary, was among those axed.

Krasner gets the soft touch from the documentary crew, counterbalanced by critics like former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and police union president John McNesby, who dismiss his attempts at reforms as pro-criminal and anti-victim.

But scene after scene bolsters Krasner’s suspicions about the should-be allies who are his adversaries. The Philadelphia Police Department drags its feet when Krasner seeks information about officers with histories of ethical and legal problems. A homicide case is disrupted when Krasner’s office accuses two detectives of conducting an illegal search.

Krasner, who seems keenly aware of the cameras, plays up his role as a political antitype with no interest in seeking higher office, unlike previous district attorneys.

“I’m not so perfect at retail politics,” he said in the series. “There is a good, long-term strategy to trying to get everyone you deal with to like you, but it’s at the cost of doing things right away that really matter.”

Johnny Doc pushes a sports betting operation in Philly

John Dougherty has plenty going on. The politically connected labor leader known as “Johnny Doc” still heads Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, as the U.S. Department of Labor seeks to overturn the union’s 2020 elections for president and executive board and force another vote.

And he has not one but two federal criminal trials approaching, the first in May with City Councilmember and fellow defendant Bobby Henon, who is also a Local 98 official, followed by a second trial with five other union officials and allies. Dougherty is accused of embezzling more than $600,000 from the union. He has pleaded not guilty.

Still, Dougherty told his pals on Talk Radio 1210-WPHT’s The Labor Show on Saturday that he’s working “to create a gaming mecca in Philadelphia” to generate jobs for the building trades unions. Dougherty said he had been talking with a group, including former local CBS executive Marc Rayfield, about a sports betting operation they want to open.

Rayfield confirmed to Clout that the group, known as Bankroll Club, is seeking a Center City West location for a food and beverage set-up where customers can view games and use the company’s app to place bets. One investor, local venture capitalist Paul Martino of Doylestown, was an early backer of Fan Duel, Rayfield said.

Cable cash = big bucks for Bob Brady

Life after Congress is proving quite lucrative for former Rep. Bob Brady, who still chairs the Democratic City Committee. Clout told you last April that Brady was taking a job as lobbyist for hometown behemoth Comcast.

A lobbying report filed this month for the fourth quarter of 2020 shows Robert A. Brady Consulting LLC pulled in $150,000 from Comcast for the year.

Brady’s 2020 disclosure forms leave blank a field for “specific lobbying issues.” He told Clout last year his job is “Whatever David wants,” referring to then-Comcast senior executive vice president David L. Cohen. Cohen has since transitioned to a role as senior adviser for the company.

Clout followed up Thursday and Brady said he couldn’t discuss what services he had provided for Comcast without getting the company’s approval.

Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s senior vice president for government communications, said the company doesn’t “generally talk about what we have our lobbyist do for us.”

Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this column.