By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia’s Democratic City Committee has snubbed District Attorney Larry Krasner by not endorsing the incumbent in the upcoming primary.
The city committee’s executive board decided to back neither Krasner nor his challenger, Carlos Vega, in the May 18 primary, according to KYW Newsradio.
Charles Peruto Jr. is running as the lone Republican in that party’s primary, yet he has vowed to drop out of the race if Vega prevails in the Democratic primary.
Bob Brady, the head of the city’s Democratic committee, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Brandon Evans, Krasner’s campaign manager, said in an email the campaign was not surprised the Democratic committee’s executive board avoided endorsing either candidate. He noted Krasner won the 2017 primary without the committee’s endorsement.
Evans said Krasner’s campaign has received several other endorsements already, including from several city wards and unions; progressive groups, including the Working Families Party and Reclaim Philadelphia; and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“Larry’s public endorsements will continue snowballing over the next months as Larry connects with his real base — voters — and various wards, organizations and community groups announce their support,” Evans said.
Vega said he was happy the Democratic committee decided to keep the primary open.
“Philadelphians have lost confidence in Mr. Krasner’s leadership, and are ready for an experienced DA who can bring reform and keep our city safe,” Vega said in a text message.
The committee’s decision to not endorse a Democratic incumbent is rare but not unheard of.
The party committee declined to endorse then-incumbent Sheriff Jewell Williams in the 2019 primary, which he went on to lose. Williams was facing several allegations of sexual harassment.
The Democratic committee also didn’t endorse Donna Reed Miller in her 1999 primary for the District 8 City Council seat. Miller went on to win that primary and re-election in the general election.
Miller, the Democratic ward leader of the 59th Ward, said she believed some ward leaders may be hesitant to back Krasner due to his progressive policies and fraught relationship with the police union.
“I think a lot of it has to do with his relationship with the police,” Miller said.
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 (FOP), has sharply criticized Krasner for years over his policies. The FOP has endorsed Vega.
McNesby is publicly waging a campaign to unseat Krasner, which includes calling on his Republican union members to re-register as Democrats and vote against Krasner. Pennsylvania has closed primary elections, meaning only a voter registered with a political party can vote in that party’s primary.
Krasner is a progressive prosecutor who has put in place criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing the jail population and dismantling policies that have led to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and other people of color in Philadelphia.
Jay McCalla, a former city deputy managing director, said the Democratic committee’s non-endorsement of an incumbent was the “height of injustice,” putting Krasner’s re-election campaign in “big jeopardy.”
McCall said Krasner already faces significant challenges to his re-election bid.
The coronavirus pandemic has cut Krasner off from the traditional paths of connecting with African-American voters, including attending weekly church services and kaffeeklatsches, McCalla said. The police union’s efforts against Krasner’s campaign combined with an expected low voter turnout in the off-year election will hurt Krasner, too.
“[Krasner is] at a real outreach disadvantage when it comes to stirring the Black vote, McCalla said. “I wouldn’t put $10 on his chances of being re-elected, not at this point.”
Krasner will go without the perks that come with an endorsement from the Democratic committee, which include funding, support and staff.
McCalla suggested Krasner would need a robust media blitz to make up for not getting the party’s endorsement and other challenges in order to reach critical voting blocs in the city, including Black voters and white progressives.
“[Krasner’s] got the message for the African-American vote to stir a turnout that would swamp the FOP turnout, but he can’t deliver that message now given the environment and what appears to be an absence of big money in his pocket,” McCalla said.
Miller, the ward leader, was uncertain whether the party’s non-endorsement of an incumbent will hurt the party, noting her own electoral success without getting the party’s endorsement in 1999 for her district City Council race.
“They didn’t endorse me and I don’t think it hurt the party,” she said.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Philadelphia by nearly 7-to-1. The winner of the Democratic primary typically goes on to win in the November general election.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.