Lawrence Krasner Taking a Swing at DA’s Office

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Lawrence Krasner

Shortly after his family moved from St. Louis to suburban Philadelphia in the early 1970s, young Lawrence Krasner took a liking to the Phillies’ feisty shortstop.

“My ultimate dream was to be Larry Bowa,” Krasner said. “Probably because his name was Larry and he wore No. 10, and I was Larry and wore No. 10. From what I remember, Larry Bowa was a pretty feisty guy who’d get thrown out now and then and kick dirt on umpires.”

Turn the clock ahead some 40 years and now it’s Krasner trying to kick dirt on the penal system, which he said enforces unreasonable sentences for minor offenses and wastes millions of taxpayer dollars that could be better served elsewhere.

That’s one reason he’s swinging for the fences to be Philadelphia’s next district attorney. He’s the latest to join a crowded lineup to replace Seth Williams, who chose not to run following revelations that he failed to report more than $160,000 in gifts and other income.

The 55-year-old Krasner is the third candidate with Jewish lineage to enter the race, following Republican Beth Grossman and fellow Democrat Michael Untermeyer, though this grandson of Russian immigrants characterizes himself as a Quaker.

“I don’t see them as mutually exclusive,” said Krasner, sitting in the lobby of his Center City law firm, Krasner and Long. “Being Quaker is somewhat ecumenical. The Quakers are a very inclusive group.”

So are the Krasners.

“My dad was essentially a secular Jew,” explained Krasner, of the man who wrote five suspense novels, along with editing psychology-focused TransAction Magazine at Washington University. “My mother was a minister.

“My wife [Judge Lisa Rau] is Irish Catholic. So you’ve got a minister, a Jewish father and a Catholic wife. We covered the United Nations of faith.”

That doesn’t mean Krasner isn’t sympathetic to the challenges Jews are facing today. He faces them, too.

“There’s certainly that protective part among my family when you see cemeteries being vandalized and hear things coming out of the mouth of the president,” said Krasner, who first encountered anti-Semitism during childhood football games in St. Louis. “My grandparents are buried in the cemetery in St. Louis [Chesed Shel Emeth] that was vandalized.

“People generally assume I’m a Jew and my wife is a Jew. I’m running for DA, and when I put out something that was non-controversial it was quickly pounced upon by alt-right trolls sending me a cartoon of a hooked-nosed rabbi running off with a headstone.

“It’s amazing to me the level of animosity.”

In a different sense, it’s amazing to Krasner how the justice system in Philadelphia has maintained such strict sentencing guidelines while offering criminals little chance for rehabilitation. He intends to change that.

“I want to be DA because I’ve been in the criminal court system and doing civil rights primarily for poor people for 30 years and believe the DA’s office has gone drastically in the wrong direction for 30 years,” Krasner said. “In 2014, Philadelphia had the highest homicide rate of the 10 largest cities and also had the highest poverty rate.

“So you have people sitting in jail four times longer than average, and all those mass incarcerations are expenses draining public education,” he said.  “If another candidate had the track record to prove they change things then I wouldn’t be running.

“The reality is I’m different from the other candidates.  I’ve fought against this for 30 years.  The other folks in the race have spent their careers working for the government under a system that did these bad things.

“I guess the word would be complicit.”

Krasner also opposes the death penalty, which he said has cost the state $1 billion through the appeal process since being reinstated in 1975. The only three executions over the past 42 years — none since 1999 — were voluntary.

As for his defense of groups like Black Lives Matter, which takes a pro Palestinian point of view when it comes to Israel, Krasner pleads a bit of ignorance. He also points out that whatever his views on any controversial topic they’re irrelevant to the job he’s pursuing.

“As D.A. you may have a private opinion about abortion, but it really doesn’t relate to the job,” said Krasner, who left the area to attend the University of Chicago,  followed by Stanford law school.  “I think it’s a distraction from a campaign for D.A. to start talking about international affairs or issues of choice, because the D.A. has no control over them.

“The array of people I’ve represented is very large, mostly because we’re fighting for social justice.   When you’re dealing with free speech and the first amendment there’s no question I have a clear record for being a champion of that. “

But Krasner admits that even if he is elected the district attorney can only do so much to reform the system.

“There’s limits on what the DA can do about sentences already handed down,” Krasner said, “but in terms of moving forward, the DA has lot of discretion, including the ability to take an important offense and treat it as unimportant so as not to jam the jails.

“There’s also discretion not to try to get as many years as possible on the highest possible charge, as if it was a sports event. Those are problems which has gotten us where we are.”

And that’s why Krasner wants to take his turn at bat.

Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729