By Tom Cardella
I confess that I don’t know whether or not Larry Krasner will be a good district attorney. Hey, I thought Seth Williams would work out fine. I also thought trading Rick Wise for Steve Carlton was a monumental mistake. What I do know is that the near-hysterical reaction to Krasner’s removal of 31 people from the DA’s office is over-the-top.
I tried to find out whether getting rid of 31 of your staff is unusual for an incoming DA. Couldn’t get the answer. But even the critics admit that a new district attorney is within his rights to make changes in his staff. To place the issue in context, firing 31 staffers amounts to about 10 percent of the staff Krasner found in place when he took office.
Didn’t Krasner get elected on the promise that he would make sweeping changes? Even considering the 7–1 edge that the Democrats hold in registration in this city, Krasner, the Democrat, defeated his Republican challenger by a large margin. He ran on the premise that a cultural change was needed in the district attorney’s office. “I’ll rock the boat” is practically tattooed on his chest. If Krasner’s margin of victory means anything, he has a mandate to change the way the office of the district attorney operates.
Understand, Larry Krasner scares some people. He scares me a bit. Krasner faces a difficult challenge. He was a lifelong civil rights attorney. He was involved in the controversial movement Black Lives Matter. I anguished over my vote before deciding to place my faith in him. That doesn’t mean that I liked everything Krasner did while representing Black Lives Matter or even what that organization did at times, no matter how noble its goals. Hell, I’m a son of a former detective of the Philadelphia Police Force — a decorated detective. I worried and still do whether Krasner and Philly cops will be able to resolve their differences. But, on the one hand, I know that unless we convince the minority community that justice can be meted out fairly in this city, we will never resolve our crime problems. And bringing peace to the streets of Philadelphia won’t protect only minority lives, but the lives of dedicated cops and the rest of us citizens as well. I thought Williams could accomplish that goal, until he put his office up for sale.
Since Krasner let go of 31 staffers on Jan. 5, the headlines in the local print media are the kind formerly reserved for Trump tweets bragging about the size of his nuclear “button” to North Korea. You would think Krasner had replaced prosecutors with dwindling members of the Black Panthers, and forced the rest of his staff to sing “Kumbaya” with death row murderers. One Daily News article proclaimed that the “fallout” from Krasner’s “house cleaning” has led to “turmoil” and “criticism.”
It turns out that the “turmoil” involves some rescheduling delays, which the same article admits “are hardly a rarity at the Criminal Justice Center.” I figure that’s a euphemism for it happens all the time. If you’re paying attention so far, that means 1: New DA’s often make changes in their staffs, but maybe or maybe not quite as many as 31. 2: These changes often result in some rescheduling delays.
The “criticism” mentioned in the sub-headline of the same article seems to refer to a not unnatural phenomenon. The dismissed folks are understandably unhappy at losing their jobs and are complaining to any reporters and columnists willing to give them a sympathetic ear. I once got canned from hosting the Eagles pre- and post-game radio shows by the now defunct WYSP and cried like a baby to Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News, one of the columnists who recently criticized Krasner’s recent actions. I felt grateful when Stu wrote a column detailing my grievances. I understand the process. I understand how it works. But such criticism has to be placed in context.
Here’s where I disagree with the conclusions Stu offers in his column of Jan. 9: DA’S Silence Adds Fuel to the Firings. Bykofsky writes that “one thing you’d expect from a reformer is a pledge of transparency, but that was not among the things that animated the Krasner campaign.” Stu wants Krasner to release the names of the 31 staffers he fired and also the causes for each of their firings. I’m betting that is almost never done in such transitions whether it be at the local, state or federal level. The understanding is that you serve at the pleasure of the office holder.
Krasner ran on a platform of getting rid of the death penalty and cash bail, and reforming civil asset forfeiture procedures. All laudable goals in my estimation. But goals on which reasonable people can disagree. For the moment, Krasner’s election vindicates his goals.
If you want to understand why Krasner believes that the culture should be changed, check out the way the criminal justice system works in this city. I’m guessing that all you have to do is ask folks in the minority community — the overwhelming number of them who voted for the new DA — to get the answer.
There will likely be areas in the future on which we can legitimately disagree with Krasner. Changing his staff — bringing in his own people — doesn’t seem to me to be one of them.