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Criminal justice reform is on the Nov. 2 ballot. What you need to know | Tuesday Morning Coffee

It’s not just judges. Voters will pick prosecutors and sheriffs across Pennsylvania next week

October 26, 2021 7:17 am

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

(*Updated at 7:25 a.m. on Tuesday, 10/26/21: An earlier version of this email incorrectly identified the Republican candidate for Philadelphia district attorney)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

You might not be thinking about it too much, but next week’s municipal elections — and yes, they’re only a week away — could have potentially sweeping impacts on the quality of criminal justice across the commonwealth.

Because even though the races for Pennsylvania’s three appellate courts, especially the wildly expensive race for state Supreme Court, have been devouring most of the oxygen, the real political drama is in the down-ballot races for county district attorney and sheriff offices.

In a Philadelphia wracked by gun violence, progressive incumbent District Attorney Larry Krasner will find his policies on the ballot as he faces Republican Chuck Peruto*.

As our friends at The Appeal reportKrasner has since managed to annoy the city’s police union, Republican state lawmakers, and other tough-on-crime types who say his progressive policies have taken the city in the wrong direction.

As The Appeal reports, three of the four counties where prosecutors have filed the most drug-induced homicide charges in the nation are holding DA elections. And all are in Pennsylvania.

One of them is in Bucks County, incumbent District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, a Republican, similarly faces a former employee, Democrat Antonetta Stancuaccording to the Delaware Valley Journal.

Speaking to the Delaware Valley JournalStancu said she wants to be a “fresh face and fresh voice,” and wants to “represent every member of our community.”

As The Appeal reports, among counties with populations of at least 100,000 people, voters in Blair, Centre, Lackawanna, Lebanon, and Schuylkil counties also will be electing district attorneys. A progressive win in any of those races could “give a rare in-state ally to Krasner, whose strand of reform politics has left him largely isolated among Pennsylvania prosecutors,” The Appeal reported.

(Photo via (c) BortN66 – stock.adobe.com)

Unusually, at least one county sheriff race in the commonwealth is attracting both attention and big money.

As this column reported last weekEverytown for Gun Safety, the anti-gun violence group founded and funded by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, launched a $200,000 campaign for the open seat in Erie County’s sheriff race.

As The Capital-Star previously reported, it’s part of a broader effort targeting sheriff’s contests nationwide, and yet another reminder that local races are increasingly being seen through a nationwide lens.

The open-seat race there pits Democrat Chris Campanelli, a 25-year veteran deputy sheriff, against Republican Brian Shank, a former prison guard and current member of Erie County Council.

Unlike other states where sheriffs and their deputies are frontline law enforcement officers, Pennsylvania sheriffs chiefly serve warrants, and provide security in county courtrooms, which makes the choice of the Erie contest, on its face at least, an odd one.

The winner replaces current Sheriff John Loomis, a Democrat, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek a third termGoErie reported — which seems to indicate the spend here is less about Campanelli, more about Shank, and all about holding the seat.

In a statement, a spokesman said Everytown is “going to make sure voters know which candidates for sheriff are on the side of gun safety — and which are hell-bent on taking the law into their own hands to suit their own ‘guns everywhere’ agenda.”

A view of the Bicentennial Tower in Erie, Pa. (Photo via Flickr Commons)

The statement from Everytown’s John Feinblatt takes Shank to task for a 2013 incident in which he was cited for illegally carrying a gun in public, noting that the stakes for the law enforcement post “couldn’t be clearer.” Shank was later cleared of the charges.

in 2014, before his retirement as a guard, Shank faced misconduct accusations that included hitting female inmates on the buttocks with a ruler and discussing bacon in front of a Muslim inmate, GoErie reported.

Shank denied more serious accusations that included kissing an inmate in an office area and touching another inmate’s breasts during a pat-down search. The Corrections Department could not substantiate the allegations, the news organization reported.

Taken together, Everytown says the record shows Shank is “unfit to serve.”

As the Erie matter, and a separate kerfuffle in Philadelphia has shown, these normally low-profile contests have proven a magnet for controversy in the past. So if you’re interested in reform, that reform most often starts at the roots.

It’s just another reminder of how important it is to pay attention to the undercard.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

The clock is officially now ticking for the five-member commission charged with redrawing Pennsylvania’s legislative maps. Stephen Caruso explains what’s in play — and why.

Advocates for undocumented Pennsylvanians rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, where they called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow those individuals to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities, and qualify for aid from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. Details from me on this one.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 10,412 new cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth over the weekend, bringing the total number of cases to 1.54 million since the start of the pandemic, I also report.

Philadelphia Controller Rebecca Rhynhart says the city’s executive-level city employees are badly lacking in diversity, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh has what you need to know about mixing and matching your COVID boosters. And when you attack teachers and the local school board over pandemic management policies, you’re attacking your neighbors, opinion regular Jill Sunday Bartoli writes.

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

Elsewhere.

SEPTA workers might walk off the job — it wouldn’t be the first time, the Inquirer reports.

State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmorelandhas joined a group of parents in a court challenge to his local school district’s mask mandate, the Tribune-Review reports.

PennLive takes a look at the latest legislative push to change Pennsylvania’s probation system.

Spotlight PA catalogues the special interest groups that are fire-hosing money onto Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court race (via the Morning Call).

‘Remarkable and very disturbing’ – that’s how a Luzerne County judge described testimony from hundreds of plaintiffs in the civil damage hearing against the ‘Kids for Cash‘ defendants, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

WHYY-FM goes inside the Philadelphia pizza restaurant that’s doing its part to help fight recidivism.

In the midst of ‘The Great Resignation,’ Pa. workers were the least likely in the nation to quit their jobsWESA-FM reports.

GoErie profiles the contentious race for Erie County sheriff.

Stateline.org takes a look at the deepening shortage of school nurses.

Roll Call takes a look at U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s, W.Va.attempts to slow walk clean energy as his home state ‘clings’ to coal.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House comes in at 11 a.m. The Senate convenes at. 1p.m.
9:30  a.m., 523 Irvis: House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee
9:30 a.m., B31: House Human Services Committee
9:30 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Local Government Committee
9:30 a.m., 60 East Wing: House Urban Affairs Committee
10 a.m., Media Center: Rep. Leanne Krueger on a bill targeting small water authorities
11 a.m., Main Rotunda: Family Care Act Day rally
11 a.m, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Appropriations/Education committees
11:30 a.m., Capitol Fountain: Draw the Lines releases its citizen-drawn congressional map
11:30 a.m., 8E-B Easting Wing: Senate Judiciary Committee
12 p.m, Capitol Steps: ‘Zonta Club’ in fighting human trafficking
2 p.m., Capitol Steps: Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month event
Call of the Chair, 140 MC: House Appropriations Committee
Call of the Chair: Senate Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Pam Snyder
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Daryl Metcalfe 
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Mike Schlossberg
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Mario Scavello
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Anthony Williams 
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Peter Schweyer
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Maria Collett
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Jordan Harris
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Dan Laughlin
6 p.m.: Reception for the House Republican Campaign Committee 
8:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Liz Hanbidge
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a pretty awful $33,500 today.

WolfWatch
12 p.m., Capitol Media Center: Gov. Tom Wolf, CeaseFire PA, others on opposing two potential gun bills being voted in the Senate this week.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out to reader Liam Bradigan, of Harrisburg; Pittsburgh PR maven Jodi Hirsh, and Harrisburg PR vet Andrea Mead, all of whom celebrate today. Congratulations, and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from English pop-rockers, Blossom. It’s ‘Care For.’


Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Carolina disassembled the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, winning 4-1 at PNC Bank CenterThe ‘Canes remain … undefeated … with the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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