Larry Krasner won the Democratic primary against an opposing Democrat, Carlos Vega, for District Attorney of Philadelphia. Vega’s most significant endorsement was Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). A union so far to the right that it is going to tip over. In my tiny precinct (ward 18, district 16), 75% of voters chose Krasner. If that’s the case, why did the Citywide Democratic party decide not to endorse Larry Krasner, and why did my ward struggle to support him as well.
I’ve always been skeptical of the Democratic Party. I find them inefficient organizers, well-meaning people, and a party that centers ego over strategy. However, it is the water we swim in, and the Republicans are a white supremacist fascist party, so I vote Democrat. I don’t just vote for the party, but I’m an elected Democratic committee person in Philadelphia! I never sought the position but a neighbor recruited me, I decided to do it and won my unopposed election in 2018.
The official Democratic Party of the city of Philadelphia decided not to endorse anyone in the District Attorney’s race because they said too many people (party insiders) had reservations about Krasner. It is virtually unheard of that an incumbent Democrat in the citywide election would not receive this endorsement.
The democratic party is ultimately a conservative institution trying to hold on to power in a world changing around it. It’s not interested in change, it wants to preserve the status quo, and the best call to action it can muster is “we are not white supremacists. Oh, and Donald Trump sucks.” There is hope with the election of left officials like AOC, Tlaib, and Omar and the new role DSA plays in politics, but the official party is an out-of-touch monolith.
The Philadelphia Democratic Party (City Committee) certainly does not listen to democratic voters and barely represents them. This is illustrated by the 65% of Philadelphia voting Democrats supporting Krasner and the party not realizing his popularity. I think the decision not to endorse Krasner is evidence of how deeply radical groups like the FOP have infiltrated the Philadelphia Democratic Party. This infiltration stops the party from doing even the bare minimum of what voters ask for today, like endorsing the incumbent Democrat for district attorney.
I don’t know how the decision not to do anything happed with the citywide Democratic Party, but I can tell you how it went down in the Democratic Party’s 18th ward. The 18th ward is an open ward (that means the ward leader cannot arbitrarily endorse a candidate). In our ward, committee people vote on who should be endorsed. My ward has 38 committee people, and we each get a vote in this process. Every candidate needs 60% of the committee people (about 23) to be endorsed. One of the problems my ward has run across is that no more than 2/3 of the committee people are genuinely active in the ward at any given time. This means that many votes are cast (via absentee) with little explanation or defense (or advocacy). There’s not much to do if these absentee votes are cast as a bloc. In my experience, this bloc votes with the City Committee.
This frustrating reality came to a head in our ward because of the Krasner race. The City Committee chose not to endorse anybody, and our ward had the votes to follow suit. I was frustrated because I’m a Krasner voter and because lots of the people (my constituents) in my precinct were with me.
I only speak for myself, but my first thought after realizing Krasner would not get my ward’s endorsement was to throw my hands in the air and say, “Whatever. This is typical of the Democratic Party.” I didn’t want to do anything about it. I have already written party organizing off as ineffective in challenging power, so I rolled my eyes and went back to my day-to-day life.
However, some committee people are not as cynical as I am. Lauren Rinaldi gets all of the credit for moving my ward to a place of endorsement. She’s the hero of this story. She spoke up about her frustration with the absentee bloc that kowtowed to the City Committee and forced our ward into a conversation about this race. This act was enormous for me because the ward never felt like a place of discussion. The same people speak at every meeting (mostly white guys, if you can imagine), the same tactics are deployed each election day, and the same listserv filibustering spams my email box. On that night, it felt like we were edging toward an actual discussion amongst peers.
The ins and outs of the meeting are private, but we left that meeting endorsing Larry Krasner. I want to emphasize that 70% of the 18th ward voted for Larry Krasner, and the elected democratic committee people were planning on not endorsing him, before that meeting. The City Committee never did endorse him, even though 65% of voting democrats supported him. The party is out of touch with its base. I was ashamed when I saw that was going to happen, and I am embarrassed that I decided to acquiesce to cynicism rather than simply organizing.
Lauren rallied the left of center committee people, forcing the ward to not just go along with what feels inevitable, and inspiring me (even for a moment) to imagine that the Democratic Party can not be disappointing. It’s terrific that Larry Krasner was re-elected to District Attorney. Our criminal justice system needs to be overhauled, and he is willing to try at least. Tough on crime has done nothing but incarcerate the most vulnerable people, so I am hopeful that the arduous path we’re on leads to a more just Philadelphia.
PS. Watch the Krasner documentary on PBS.