Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, currently under investigation for corruption, is not seeking another term. On Thursday, 8 candidates who want his job will debate each other at a forum in Chestnut Hill.

The Chestnut Hill  Local is hosting a debate among all eight candidates for Philadelphia District Attorney on Thursday March 23.

The debate will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the main auditorium of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee Street. WHYY’s Dave Davies will be the moderator, and Chestnut Hill Local editor Pete Mazzaccaro will join Dave in asking questions.

WHYY and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy are co-sponsoring the debate.

The Democratic field includes Joe Khan, Lawrence Krasner, Theresa Carr Deni, Michael Untermeyer, Rich Negrin, Tariq El-Shabazz and Hill resident Jack O’Neill. The lone Republican candidate is Beth Grossman.

The race has changed considerably since the Local first announced its intention to host this debate, with incumbent District Attorney Seth Williams deciding in February that he would not seek reelection. Williams was fined $62,000 by the city’s Ethics Board in January for failing to disclose numerous gifts he accepted over a six year span.

With Williams out of the race, the position will likely fall the  Democrat that wins the May 16 primary election. The winner of that contest will face Beth Grossman, who is running unopposed as a Republican.

Here are brief profiles of each candidate. Their answers were submitted by email and were edited for space. They appear here in alphabetical order.

Teresa Carr Deni
Age: 69
Residence: Northeast Philadelphia
Law School: Temple University

 

Teresa Carr Deni began her law career at Temple University, first getting her bachelor’s degree in communication and later graduating from Temple’s Beasley School of Law in 1985. While at Temple, one of her papers was published in the Communications and the Law academic journal.

After graduating, she worked for the City Solicitor’s office, the Office of Housing and Community Development and the Board of Revision of Taxes. Deni later started her own private practice, focusing on criminal defense and litigation. She became chair of the Criminal Justice Section of the Philadelphia Bar Association, on which she served as a member of its Board of Governors.

For the past 21 years, she has been a judge in the Municipal Court of Philadelphia. During that time, she has been assigned nearly 100,000 cases. Deni has been active in the Brehon Law Society, the Justinian Society and the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

Why are you running for District Attorney?

I am running for District Attorney because I have committed and dedicated my life to social and restorative justice.  I am keenly sensitive to the inherent and systemic racism that currently plagues our criminal justice system and, as a result, believe that I am best equipped to bring equity to a system and a DA’s office that has emboldened distrust between the community and DA’s office.

I will reform a DA’s office that must be diversified; discontinue charging low–level, non-violent offenders; decriminalize addiction and mental health; reform civil forfeiture; and institute a long-term comprehensive pre-diversionary plan that will address mass incarceration, recidivism and economic stagnation amongst potential new offenders.

Why are you the right person for the job?

The DA’s office requires visionary, bold and stable leadership in order to institute the kind of reform necessary to transform the office and address some of the systemic challenges within Philadelphia’s criminal justice system.  I bring over 30 years of work and leadership at every level of the workforce, including 21 years as a judge on Municipal Court where I was always a fair and balanced jurist,  most recently working with Municipal Court to institute changes through the MacArthur Grant.  I have lived in every section of the City of Philadelphia and I understand the importance of community and the important role that community must play in creating safe neighborhoods.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

I believe mass incarceration is the chief issue we face in the criminal justice system both locally and nationally.  Decriminalizing addiction and mental health issues and discontinuing the practice of charging low-level non-violent offenders while simultaneously improving and creating pre-diversion, diversionary and post-diversionary programs will be paramount in restoring community confidence and preventing recidivism.  Refocusing budgetary resources on mental health and addiction will also reduce incarceration rates while simultaneously instituting a no cash bail system.

 

Beth Grossman
Age: 49
Residence: East Falls
Law school: Temple University

A fourth-generation Philadelphian, Beth Grossman received her bachelor’s degree in political science at Pennsylvania State University in 1990 and later earned a law degree from Temple University. As a law student, she interned with the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. After graduating from Temple in 1993 she became a full-time Assistant DA. At the DA’s office she served in the trial, juvenile, law, investigations and narcotics divisions.

Her work with the office included becoming the Assistant Chief of the Municipal Court unit from 2005 to 2007 and Chief of the Public Nuisance Task Force in 2007. In 2015, she was appointed  Chief of Staff of the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections. Grossman currently works with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation and sits on the Commerce Department’s Neighborhood Economic Development Advisory Committee.

She is running unopposed as a Republican in the May primary.

Why are you running for District Attorney?

Philadelphians deserve a truly independent District Attorney who will hold herself to the highest standard of integrity and will hold all of Philadelphia’s government to that same standard. We have to end the era of public corruption produced by machine politics.

But having a chief law enforcement officer, and other public officials who know they aren’t above the law themselves, isn’t nearly enough. We need a DA with a passion for equal justice under law, a vision of a better quality of life for every neighborhood in our city, and a plan to address the public safety issues holding our city back from neighborhood nuisances to the severe epidemic of addiction and drug dealing.

Why are you the right person for the job?

I’ve never been in politics before. I’ve devoted my entire career to public service, with 21 years as a prosecutor in the office I now seek to lead. I’ve seen the job done well and not nearly well enough. I’ve chosen to run as a Republican because this city desperately needs a DA who is truly independent of the political machine that has had far too much power for far too long and that seeks to serve itself more than ordinary Philadelphians.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

Justly and thoroughly charging and prosecuting cases and helping neighborhoods improve public safety and quality of life for all residents.

 

Joe Khan
Age: 41
Residence: Roxborough
Law School: University of Chicago

Joe Khan is a career prosecutor who has spent 16 years with both the Philadelphia District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney. Khan attended Philadelphia public schools before college. He graduated from Swarthmore College and earned his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

During his time with the Philadelphia DA’s office, his cases focused on sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. With the U.S. Attorney, an office in which he spent 10 years, his focus shifted to prosecuting corrupt politicians and lawyers, as well as violent crime.

Khan is a practicing attorney with the Philadelphia law firm Spector Gadon & Rosen, P.C. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Why are you running for District Attorney?

I love our city, and it needs a progressive, dynamic District Attorney who is passionate about seeking justice for all and is unafraid to take on tough fights to achieve it. The moral leadership of the DA’s office is completely broken, and the culture has become more focused on scoring easy wins than doing the right thing. I not only have the vision, values and ability to implement overdue criminal justice reform, but I also have the experience to recognize that we need to go much further to provide justice that reaches all Philadelphians.

Why are you the right person for the job?

I’m a lifelong Philadelphian who has spent his entire career fighting for justice in this city. At this moment in our history, the DA’s Office needs the leadership of a progressive prosecutor – someone with both a progressive vision of justice for all Philadelphians and the prosecutorial experience to make it happen. … Our city needs a DA who is never satisfied with success because we have to be tireless about doing more to make our justice system fairer. I put together historic corruption and abuse cases by keeping my focus on the people at the top and being vigilant about seeking fair and equal justice instead of simply seeking out easy wins. We need to be ready to stand up to the Trump administration, the prison industrial complex, and official corruption. Our current DA has been ducking a lot of these big fights. I’m hungry to take them on and I can’t wait to get started.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

I want to address the District Attorney’s Office failure to look out for our kids. I believe that once a child intersects with the justice system – whether as a victim, witness, or defendant – the DA’s Office has a stake in that child’s future. My DA’s Office will look beyond the immediacy of the criminal case to address the longer-­‐ term needs of each child. …. The current DA has shamefully underfunded the fight against child abuse, family violence and sex trafficking. That will stop on my first day as DA. We will also be smarter about combating the gun violence that has taken too many of our young people, protect our kids from environmental harms, and eliminate cash bail policies that unfairly keep parents from their kids because they are poor. I will lobby to stop our family courts from giving up on young people when they turn 21, so that we can keep more young offenders out of adult prisons and free of a criminal record that will haunt them their entire lives.

 

Lawrence Krasner
Age: 55
Residence: West Mt. Airy
Law School: Stanford Law School

Lawrence Kranser was born in St. Louis, Mo. He is a career defense attorney with 30 years of practice in Philadelphia. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1983 with his bachelor’s degree in Spanish. He later received his Juris Doctor in 1987 from Stanford Law School.

Krasner worked as a public defender in Philadelphia from 1987-1991 and was then promoted to the Federal Public Defender’s Office, where he stayed for the next two years. He began his own private practice in 1993and remains a partner at Krasner & Long Trial Attorneys, a leading criminal defense practice in Philadeplhia.

Why are you running for District Attorney?

For 30 years – as a Philadelphia County public defender,  Federal public defender, private civil rights and criminal defense attorney – I have been in court 4-5 days per week.  For 30 years, I have seen the criminal justice system, and the D.A.’s Office in particular, go in the wrong direction – toward wasteful and unjust practices.

The result is injustice.  And we are not safer.  As of 2014, Philadelphia’s homicide rate was the highest among the 10 largest cities.  So was Philadelphia’s homcide poverty rate.  Those rankings have only moved slightly since 2014.  As it turns out, we have all been sold a lie – that justice and safety are mutually exclusive alternatives, and that we must pick one.  Justice and safety are not an ‘either/or’.  ….  Justice makes us safer.

Resources must shift toward crime prevention via things that work – quality education, job training, addiction treatment, mental health support, economic development that attends all these improvements – and away from over-incarceration.

Why are you the right person for the job?

I am different than the other candidates because for 30 years I have been pushing in the right direction from the outside rather than going in the wrong direction from the inside….  I am not a part of and not complicit in the wildly misguided culture of the District Attorney’s Office, which uniquely enables me to change it.  Having done as much as I can do from the outside, I am ready to change things from the inside.

I will be the most progressive prosecutor among the candidates and I will change the culture of the District Attorney’s Office and take it in the right direction.  My experience – in court and academically – equals or exceeds the other candidates.  And my outsider status is a strength.  My campaign is truly grass roots and my volunteer army is formidable.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

Changing the culture of the District Attorney’s Office and working as a member of a team of elected officials to push criminal justice reform in the right direction – the direction that benefits Philadelphians in myriad ways.

 

Rich Negrin
Age: 50
Residence: East Falls
Law School: Rutgers University

Philadelphia native Richard Negrin was 13 years old, when he saw his father shot and killed right in front of him, an experience he’s described as formative.

Negrin was an All-American college football player at Wagner College, a small liberal arts school on Staten Island. He played professionally in the NFL for both the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. In 1995, he began working in the District Attorney’s Office, where he ultimately moved up to the Major Trials Unit.

After the DA’s office, he was appointed managing director and deputy mayor of Philadelphia under former mayor Michael Nutter. He oversaw the initiative now known as SERVE Philadelphia, and served as the vice chair of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics from 2006-2010. He is currently a partner at the city law firm Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel.

Why are you running for District Attorney?

I think the Philadelphia District Attorney can play a critical role in creating a safer, smarter, stronger future for Philadelphia, but to do so we need a person who can effectively lead with integrity, manage a large office that is looking for a boost in morale, and bring together people from diverse backgrounds to chart a course for our city that lifts everyone up.

I’m running because I believe that I uniquely bring those qualities and those values to the office.

Why are you the right person for the job?

I started my career 21 years ago in the D.A.’s office and finished my time there in the major crimes unit, taking on some of the city’s biggest cases, including significant hate crimes cases. I spent six years as the city manager of Philadelphia where we helped improve quality of life in our neighborhoods, worked to boost the city’s financial rating, and cut the city’s violent crime rate.

I see an opportunity to build on what I’ve done and I think I’m uniquely qualified. I don’t think there’s anybody in the race that has the leadership and management experience that I have. We need more than just talk. We need a proven track record of getting things done. Nor do I think that anyone else has the proven record of creating a culture of integrity that I do. I’m a good person, but equally important, I’ve actually served on the ethics board and drove ethics and integrity though the city government by training and by changing the culture. … I have proven that I can bring people together from all walks of life to make a difference. I hope to continue that work as DA.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

I want to re-imagine the role of DA as a community champion. To work with all stakeholders to identify and solve the collective problems that cause and perpetuate crime. Broadly speaking, I would like to see our office become a national model for criminal justice reform and pursuing justice in a more thoughtful, effective way that aggressively prosecutes violent criminals while, at the same time, prevents first–time offenders, non-violent offenders, and those facing that important first felony from being swept up into a system that can be impossible to escape.

 

Jack O’Neill
Age: 35
Residence: Chestnut Hill
Law School: Florida State University

The most recent candidate to enter the District Attorney race, Jack O’Neill, made his run official on March 7, right before the deadline to file petitions. O’Neill is a Philadelphia native who attended Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. He went on to graduate from Rutgers University and later completed his law education at Florida State University and Oxford University. O’Neill was an Assistant District Attorney for 10 years, spending more than six years with the Special Victims Unit. He also spent time in the office’s homicide unit.

He currently works as a private practice attorney with the law firm Schatz & Steinberg, P.C.

Why are you running for District Attorney?

I am a lifelong Philadelphia resident who has always cared deeply about the people of this city. Like many people, it breaks my heart every time one of my fellow Philadelphians is shot or killed, falsely accused or in any other way hurt by crime or our criminal justice system. I am running because I know that we can do a lot better and, as the candidate with the most experience as a Philadelphia prosecutor, I am the best person to lead us forward.

Why are you the right person for the job?

I have the most experience and, as my record demonstrates, I have the greatest passion for working to protect and help the people of Philadelphia. I am the only candidate that spent the last decade as a Philadelphia prosecutor, fighting for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and for the families of our murdered brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors. I was one of the earliest supporters of Focused Deterrence, a community based program that has proven extremely effective at reducing gun violence and steering young people away from paths of crime before they get ensnared in the system. I, better than any other candidate, know what needs to be done to strengthen and expand such programs to dramatically reduce gun violence in our city and to propel high-risk youths in positive directions.

I worked extensively with people who were preyed upon and trafficked by sexual predators because of their addictions to opiates. Through that work, I developed a deep understanding of the causes of our city’s addiction epidemic and worked with fellow Assistant District Attorneys to help these very vulnerable people and to promote ways of fixing this terrible problem.

I am the best candidate to be Philadelphia’s top prosecutor because I have the most experience as a Philadelphia prosecutor and I have shown the greatest dedication to protecting and ensuring justice for the citizens of Philadelphia.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

Gun violence.

 

Tariq El-Shabazz
Age: 53
Residence: East Mt. Airy
Law School: University of Baltimore

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Tariq El-Shabazz and his family moved to Philadelphia when he was a child. El-Shabazz graduated from Hofstra University and later obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Baltimore Law Center.

He was hired as an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia after graduation.

El-Shabazz spent time in private practice as a criminal defense attorney and represented Sacon Youk, one of four people falsely accused of being involved in the 2000 Lex Street Massacre, in which 10 people were murdered in a West Philadelphia crack house. He helped Youk and the other men obtain a $1.9 million settlement from the city. El-Shabazz has said it is the proudest accomplishment of his entire career of more than 18 years.

He later returned to the DA’s office as Head of Investigations and First Assistant DA under current District Attorney Seth Williams.

Why are you running for District Attorney?   

I recognize the need that Philadelphians have for safety, security, balance and justice within our community.  My experience has allowed me to develop the skills, knowledge, compassion, empathy and leadership ability to direct an office that can be transparent and geared towards reformation of the criminal justice system.  Our city deserves security for our juveniles and seniors, fairness to all and a rebirth of the sense of community that has the rest of the nation referring to Philadelphia as the City of Brotherly love and sisterly affection.

Why are you the right person for the job? 

I believe that I can bring the highest form of prosecutorial excellence without prosecutorial injustice.  I have spent my entire legal career in the area of criminal law – as either a prosecutor, defense attorney or as an adjunct professor. I’ve worked closely with all of the stakeholders in our system with one goal in mind:  reforming a broken system, exhibiting transparency, and ensuring that our system is fair and just towards everyone, irrespective of race, country of origin, sexual orientation or religion.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA? 

Restoring confidence, stability, fairness and balance in the community through: Offering diversion programs offered for all non-violent offenders; making the streets safer by focusing on tough but fair prosecutions of violent offenders; eliminating cash bail for non-violent offenders; creating day reporting sites which would offer employment, locating services and other social services; ending mass incarceration by creating a more robust probation and parole system; uniting the citizens of Philadelphia through community based prosecution and transparency; and focus on creating, enhancing and working with partners on our pre-entry and re-entry programs.

 

Michael Untermeyer
Age: 66
Residence: Center City
Law School: Rutgers University

Michael Untermeyer began his legal career in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office under Ed Rendell. While there, he helped establish the Domestic Violence Unit.

After four years at the DA’s office, Untermeyer joined the Philadelphia Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General. During that time, he directly worked with and trained Philadelphia police officers, Pennsylvania State troopers and state narcotics agents in money laundering and narcotics investigations.

After 10 years with the state Attorney General, Untermeyer spent his time in both private law work and real estate development Untermeyer has also volunteered as a temporary judge in Philadelphia’s mortgage foreclosure rescue effort, served a chair of South Street Headhouse Special Services District and volunteered with the Red Cross in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

He is presently an attorney with the law firm Lyman & Ash in Society Hill.

Why are you running for District Attorney?

Currently, the District Attorney’s office doesn’t listen to the people. Philadelphia has one of the most dysfunctional criminal justice systems in the country. In pursuit of statistics, they spend their time going after low level offenders and minor infractions – the office needs to prioritize going after the dangerous criminals and organizations that really hurt our communities. We need a DA that works to reform this office into an advocate for fairness and safety for every Philadelphian.

Why are you the right person for the job?

After law school, I went and worked for the DA’s office here in Philadelphia under Ed Rendell. There, I was one of three attorneys that helped found the Domestic Violence Unit to fight for victims of spousal abuse. After four years there, I went and worked in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for the Philadelphia region. I spent a decade going after major drug organizations and organized crime. I worked with state narcotics agents, financial agents and Pennsylvania State Troopers assigned to Philadelphia to conduct long-term, high-level narcotics investigations, becoming an expert in white collar crime and money laundering.

Afterwards, I founded my own firm helping small businesses and worked in real estate law. I continued to serve my community. When the economic crash hit, I volunteered as a judge to take on the big banks and help keep people in their homes. I have worked throughout this campaign to bring the best ideas into this race.

What is the number one issue you hope to address if you become DA?

My first focus as District Attorney would be on reforming the bail system in Philadelphia. Our bail system is one of the worst in the country. In 2013, 26-year-old Kareem Chappelle couldn’t afford a $600 bail fee. He spent months in jail, losing his home, his job, his car and could not spend the holiday with his family. In Philadelphia only 51 percent of individuals who received a bail amount of $500 or less were able to post bail within three days – and a full 25 percent of defendants charged with a misdemeanor were unable to post bail at all. It is clear that a cash bail system does not lead to just outcomes in our judicial system.That’s not acceptable.

Our current system of bail is failing, relying on an outdated model that is ineffective at ensuring individuals show up for court hearings and discriminatory in determining who is jailed before trial and who is allowed to go free. As District Attorney, I will work towards implementing a system that doesn’t discriminate based on socio-economic status. I would work to end cash bail.

 

 

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