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The Krasner Travesty

Tom Cardella

This is not a defense of Larry Krasner. The embattled Philadelphia district attorney has been impeached by the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Every Republican but one voted to impeach and not a single Democrat. His trial by the state Senate is scheduled to begin on Jan. 18. Republicans, if they vote along party lines, will need five Democrats to join them if Krasner is to be convicted and removed from office.

Whether you like Krasner or not, whether you agree with his progressive policies or not, Krasner’s impeachment is a travesty. An outrageous overreach by state Republicans. Part of a dangerous trend to undermine democracy.

Understand this. Krasner was elected by Philadelphia voters by a wide margin. Twice. But the yahoos in the Pennsylvania Republican Party found a scapegoat for their own political failure in the midterms. Krasner.

Republicans in the state recently lost the midterm elections for both of the state’s most important offices — governor and senator. Their gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano, lost in a landslide to Democrat Josh Shapiro. Their senatorial candidate, Mehmet Oz, was beaten by John Fetterman. By impeaching the controversial Philly DA, the GOP hopes to regain some traction for the presidential race in 2024. Figuring rising crime in Philadelphia will be a major issue, how better to curry favor with the state’s voters than by ousting Krasner. But I’ve got a big problem with that and you should, too. Impeachment should be reserved for corruption or misbehavior while in office. The last successful impeachment ousted Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994. But Larson’s ouster was for corruption, not policy differences. Despite what you may think of Krasner, there’s not been a hint of corruption in the charges, unlike in the case of Seth Williams, his predecessor, who left his post in disgrace.

At times, Krasner has been his own worst enemy. Much reporting characterizes him as abrasive and arrogant. Krasner has had trouble retaining his staff. He brought a different culture to his office — a culture not always popular with existing staff. But the best way to understand the political nature of the Republican-led attack on Krasner is to examine the articles of impeachment.

The articles consist of the following charges: Fueling Philadelphia’s surge in homicides, mishandling criminal cases, violating the rights of crime victims and obstructing the work of the state House committee.

The murder rate in this city is outrageous. But to some extent, the problem is the same in every big city, even in those reputedly run by so-called law-and-order district attorneys. Gun laws are virtually toothless. Made so, ironically, by some of the same Republican legislators who complain about progressive policies. Philadelphia and other big cities have been politically held hostage by rural state legislatures, like ours.

The accusation that Krasner’s office mishandled criminal cases is rooted in a difference in philosophy, not in actual corruption. The violation of victims’ rights speaks more to Krasner’s high-handed approach, one that many consider insensitive. An Inquirer analysis of the Krasner impeachment articles indicated that Maureen Faulkner, the slain police officer’s husband, has been instrumental in a court case against Krasner dealing with Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted killer of her husband. But a court rejected her case. I’m sympathetic to Mrs. Faulkner. I believe Abu-Jamal is a cold-stone murderer who should rot in prison. But none of this is grounds for removing Krasner from office.

Krasner ran on a promise to enact criminal reform. His campaign pledge included reducing the prison population, lowering bail or waiving bail entirely for non-violent crimes. Previously, bail was routinely used to keep the poor behind bars until their trial, regardless of their presumption of innocence or whether they posed a public threat. Other Krasner promises included a public health approach to drug use. Not prosecuting offenders for marijuana use. And reversing wrongful convictions.

He kept his campaign pledge and was easily re-elected. Do I think there’s been too much of a revolving door for repeat offenders under Krasner? Yes. But by and large I think the reforms Krasner ran on are necessary and just. Philadelphia voters overwhelmingly thought so, too. He has especially done a fine job in freeing those persons wrongfully convicted, something the public at-large seems to care little about. And he’s tried to hold police accountable. Something some folks view as handcuffing police in doing their job. But when police break the law, the crime is even worse because it undermines the very law they’re sworn to enforce. Again, where are the real grounds for impeachment?

Frankly, I don’t understand a state Constitution that authorizes Pennsylvania legislators, who do not live in Philadelphia, to override the election results of a city’s residents. In a perfect world, big cities such as Philadelphia would be considered city-states and would run their own affairs, including the power to tax. But the state Constitution being what it is and rural voters thinking big cities such as Philly are corrupt and evil, there should still be an overriding principle.  Pennsylvania state legislators should tread extremely cautiously before they attempt to override the voters in Philadelphia. And to be fair, they have been extremely cautious to do so in the past. But these are different and dangerous times.

We didn’t need the state to step in to get rid of the previous DA, Seth Williams. The feds investigated Williams and he was convicted of corruption and sent to prison. (Williams is out of prison and been active in anti-violence programs). But because the case against Krasner is purely political, it’s the Republican partisans in the state legislature who are trying to get rid of him. In doing so, they are breaking precedent in this state by misusing impeachment as a tool.

It’s not Larry Krasner who needs defending here.  It’s the democratic principle that partisan politics should not be allowed to cancel out the votes of its citizens.

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