Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney dodged three direct questions in a television interview Sunday about whether he would endorse incumbent District Attorney Larry Krasner’s re-election bid.
The sidesteps from Kenney come less than a month after the Philadelphia Democratic city committee also declined to endorse Krasner, a clear sign that the city’s climbing murder rate during Krasner’s first term has left some shaken.
Krasner, still in his first term, faces Carlos Vega in the May 18 primary, and because of the city’s proportion of registered Democrats, it’s widely assumed that the winner of the primary will go on to win the office.
“I think the situation that we’re in right now, when it comes to crime, crime and punishment, and incarceration and guns, I think people have to make up their own minds as to what, what it is they want and what it is,” Kenney told 6ABC’s Inside Story when asked if he would endorse Krasner.
“The Democratic City Committee did not endorse, which was, which was, you know, not, not normal — not the normal state when it comes to incumbents. And I think that people should make up their minds as to what direction they want to go in. And, um, I’ll stay neutral at this point.”
After Kenney again said he would leave the decision in the hands of the people, Host Matt O’Donnell circled back with the most pointed question possible.
“Would you rather someone else be district attorney of Philadelphia?” O’Donnell asked.
“I think people need to make up their minds as to what they should do,” Kenney said again.
The most recent statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department show 159 homicides so far this year, a 33 percent increase over the same time in 2020. An increase so large is especially noteworthy given that there were 499 homicides in 2020, one shy of the highest mark in three decades.
Many of Krasner’s critics have blamed his decarceration policies for the upswing. Krasner, however, has pointed to the broader trend of murders rising nationally, especially in large cities.
Other political leaders in the city and in the southeast have avoided commenting on Krasner, who was once lauded as one of the most left-wing district attorneys in the nation. In mid-March, Broad + Liberty reached out to more than a dozen elected leaders to get their opinions on his job performance, but none responded.
Other political leaders in the city and in the southeast have avoided commenting on Krasner… In mid-March, Broad + Liberty reached out to more than a dozen elected leaders to get their opinions on his job performance, but none responded.
Still, Mayor Kenney has begun to take more heat as the city’s relentless crime surge has clearly begun to make many residents weary.
Those anxieties were on clear display in early April when Steven Starr, an award-winning restaurateur, blasted the mayor, alleging a lack of leadership.
“It feels that the government is leaving the economic epicenter of Center City to fend for itself. I have never seen it this way,” Starr said in an email to NBC10. “The proud entrepreneurs are valiantly trying but we need basic support and protection from our Mayor and police force. (Former Mayor) Ed Rendell rallied us all and reminded us how great this city could be. We need that optimism and leadership right now.”
Kenney, like Krasner, partially blamed the pandemic when responding to Starr’s complaints.
“Violence or homicide in any part of the city is as important as in any other part of the city. The fact that someone tragically died at Third and Chestnut is no more important than someone being killed in North Philadelphia or West Philadelphia,” Kenney said. “Ed Rendell was a great mayor, was a great governor, a great person. Ed Rendell was not dealing with a pandemic and the proliferation of gun violence that we’ve never seen before, as we’ve seen in every other city in the country.”
The friction has also occasionally spilled over to the law enforcement community.
On April 8, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw held a press conference in conjunction with the U.S. attorney’s office to announce a new effort to stem a rise in gun crimes. Kranser was not in attendance, something reporters were eager to ask about.
“The DA is the DA. You guys keep trying to get me to speak for the DA,” Outlaw began. “The data is what the data is. I put the data out. We make the [gun] arrests. The conviction rates are going down. The trendlines are going up as far as the guns we’re getting off the street looking for arrests that we’re making. I’ve been asking for more and more consequences. We would like to see it. And if — I don’t care who does it, it needs to get done. Right? People are dying.”
Vega, the sole opposition to Krasner in May, is a former prosecutor who was fired when Krasner took over in 2018. While he has been critical of the upswing in violence and has blamed some of it on Krasner, he is being careful not to criticize left-leaning reforms of the criminal justice system.
While [Vega] has been critical of the upswing in violence and has blamed some of it on Krasner, he is being careful not to criticize left-leaning reforms of the criminal justice system.
“Black and brown communities like the one I grew up in are taking the brunt of both the systemic injustices that plague our society and the worsening epidemic of violent crime,” Vega wrote in a recent editorial. “We don’t have the luxury of choosing between reform and safety. We need and deserve both.”
Krasner and Vega have a televised debate scheduled for May 5.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.