Chuck Peruto found something Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his Democratic challenger Carlos Vega can agree on.
Peruto, the only Republican candidate for DA, said during a candidate forum last week that teenagers who commit gun crimes “are the most dangerous offenders” in the city.
“These kids are dangerous,” Peruto said Thursday during the virtual forum for the Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. “And we need to remove them from society. And I realize, I totally realize, that I’m going to lose a lot of votes this way. So be it.”
Krasner and Vega, who just a day earlier had clashed bitterly in their only televised debate before the May 18 primary, agreed Peruto was wrong.
In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-1, the Democratic nominee will almost surely best any Republican in the November general election. But Peruto, a Democrat who voted for Krasner in 2017 before turning Republican to challenge him, isn’t letting those long odds deter him from offering up head-turning and sometimes incendiary opinions during his improbable campaign to be Philadelphia’s top prosecutor.
In an interview Saturday, Peruto said he was “inundated with comments” about the Alpha Kappa Alpha forum — most of them critical.
“It’s hurtful because it’s mostly down racial lines,” Peruto said.
Peruto also said some of his campaign appearances with Black voters haven’t gone well, and have included some booing. Peruto’s name circulated widely on Twitter in recent days, with posters asking if screenshots of his website were a parody.
His campaign website, usually a candidate’s most carefully honed messaging, raised eyebrows for an unusual section titled “The Girl in my Bathtub.” It’s an explanation of the accidental death of a paralegal and paramour of Peruto’s, who died in his home in 2013 while he was out of town. A grand jury investigation found no foul play, and the incident later became a Lifetime movie.
The “Issues” page on his website also included a now-deleted section titled “Gay Bashing,” in which he said that “gay bashing will not be tolerated under my administration” and that he would “assign an older, seasoned prosecutor who looks as opposite of gay you can imagine” to deal with “nothing but this problem.”
Then there’s Peruto’s provocative campaign video declaring that public safety is more important than civil rights. Peruto, who is white, makes sweeping statements about race and crime.
“I understand Black people just about as well as a Black person,” Peruto says, citing his childhood in West Philadelphia. “I’m not going to say equal. But pretty good.”
Asked about hiring and diversity in the District Attorney’s Office during the Alpha Kappa Alpha forum, Peruto said the best way to win convictions of Black defendants is to assign Black prosecutors to their cases.
“If a Black person is charged with a crime, I want a Black face on the prosecutor, selling the jury the evidence to convict,” he said. “Believe me when I tell you, nobody on this panel knows Blacks like Chucky boy here.”
Peruto also derided the phrase mass incarceration, promising a robust lock-em-up approach to prosecution of gun crimes. But still, he said, some crimes should not lead to prison sentences.
“Mass incarceration is a misnomer,” he said. “It is misleading people into thinking there’s people in jail that don’t belong there. And some of them don’t belong there.”
Peruto told the audience he has many Black friends, including judges who “are rooting for me because they know I’ll be fair.”
Peruto, in the interview, said many of his discussions with Black voters focus on Krasner’s reforms.
“Unless you promise like Larry does to let every defendant out of jail and cater to every liberal whim, you’re not going to get Black support,” Peruto said.
Krasner, a civil rights and defense attorney for three decades who won four years ago on a campaign of criminal justice reform, is seeking a second term amid a surge in gun violence. Vega, an assistant district attorney for 35 years before Krasner fired him in 2018, is trying to unseat him in the Democratic primary.
Peruto has said he will drop out if Vega defeats Krasner in their primary. He expects to take more heat for his positions if he faces Krasner in November.
“I’m a realist and I have to be ready for it,” Peruto said. “And I have a lot of Black leaders who are ready to come out for me, who have known me for a long time and didn’t just jump on the bandwagon because I’m running for something. People who really know me, I’m going to rely on to convince the Black people that I’ve been painted the wrong color.”