Philly’s Democrats face crowded primary field for district attorney Tuesday

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Need an example of how diffuse the support is in the Democratic field for Tuesday’s primary election for district attorney?

Consider Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, typically a political powerhouse that fuels campaigns with contributions and Election Day ground troops.

The union on Saturday gave $10,000 to Tariq El-Shabazz, a former first assistant district attorney who had trailed in fundraising compared to some of the other six candidates in the primary.

The union on Monday was running ads on, praising the prosecutorial work of Jack O’Neill, a former assistant district attorney in the race.

Frank Keel, a Local 98 spokesman, said the union has not formally endorsed El-Shabazz, O’Neill or any other candidate in the race.

The union may be laying low this election season because it has drawn the interest of federal investigators. The Inquirer and Daily News on May 2 reported that those investigators were also probing $6,400 Local 98 paid in 2015 to send to summer camp abroad two daughters of District Attorney Seth Williams, who was indicted in March on unrelated federal charges.

Williams, a Democrat, dropped his bid for a third term in February.

The local party, which once appeared unlikely to endorse the incumbent, remained splintered, with many of the Democratic City Committee 69 ward leaders backing different candidates or remaining neutral.

Into that void came crashing a $1.45 million contribution by billionaire George Soros of New York, to Philadelphia Justice & Public Safety, an independent political action committee airing television commercials and sending out canvassers in support of Larry Krasner, a defense attorney known for civil rights cases who has never worked as a prosecutor.

Another independent political action committee, Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund, reported over the weekend spending money in support of O’Neill and in opposition to Krasner. That PAC, founded by Local 98 in 2014, is funded by local building trades unions.

Krasner’s rise in the field drew the fire over the weekend of Joe Khan, a former city and federal prosecutor in the race, who released a letter from 24 former District Attorney’s Office employees who endorsed him, in part because of their concerns that Krasner has never been a prosecutor.

That, in turn, prompted the release of a letter Monday from 25 “Philadelphia survivors of sexual violence,” who declared their support for Krasner and decried “recent attacks” on his campaign.

Khan pronounced the primary “a two-person race” after releasing on Friday a poll his campaign commissioned showing he and Krasner tied in first place with 20 percent each of likely Democratic voters, with another 22 percent undecided.

Khan’s poll, unchallenged by any other campaign, listed former city Managing Director Rich Negrin in third place with 14 percent, former city and state prosecutor Michael Untermeyer in fourth place with 12 percent, El-Shabazz in fifth place with 7 percent, and O’Neill tied with former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni at 3 percent.

Beth Grossman, a former assistant district attorney, is the lone Republican on the ballot. She will face the Democratic winner in the Nov. 7 general election.

This is the first time the post of district attorney has been open since 2009, when Lynne Abraham decided against seeking another term.

Williams, who won a competitive 2009 Democratic primary, is scheduled to go on trial next month, accused of accepting bribes from two businessmen and stealing money meant for the care of his elderly mother.

Williams, who agreed to the suspension of his law license but insists on completing the rest of his term, was hit with more federal charges last week, accused of misspending contributions to his political action committee on personal expenses.

Tuesday’s Democratic primary also includes a contested election for city controller.  Alan Butkovitz’s bid for a fourth term is being challenged by Rebecca Rhynhart, who served as chief administrative officer for Mayor Kenney after working for eight years in various posts for former Mayor Michael Nutter.

Republican Michael Tomlinson is his party’s lone candidate for city controller.

The ballot also includes judicial races in the city for Municipal Court and Common Pleas Court and statewide races for Commonwealth Court, Superior Court and the state Supreme Court.

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