Like their distant cousins in the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, Philadelphia's FOP finally got its man in the wide-open race for district attorney. You may recall that a desperate police union was running billboards on I-95 and running ads at 3 a.m. on WIP sports talk radio seeking a candidate to challenge incumbent DA Seth Williams -- leading to speculation that "Glenn from Roxborough, who wants to talk about the Nerlens Noel deal" might somehow become the "law and order" candidate in the race.
But with Williams taking himself out of the running because of his various and sundry ethical nightmares, FOP leader John McNesby clicked his heels three times and realized that his dream candidate was in the race all along. In a rare show of rank-and-file police solidarity, the FOP was joined today by the Guardian League of black police officers as well as the Spanish American Law Enforcement Association in endorsing Rich Negrin, a former prosecutor who more recently was the city's managing director under former Mayor Michael Nutter.
As reported by Philadelphia Magazine's Holly Otterbein, who's been all over the DA's race like the ice currently blocking my plowed-in car (but I digress), McNesby offered strong if somewhat generic sounding verbal praise for Negrin, saying that "we look forward to working with him to strengthen and grow the relationships between our officers and the communities they serve.”
If you believe the FOP endorsement is a big deal, which is certainly the long-time conventional wisdom, then Negrin today had the best day of any of the seven Democratic candidates seeking the party nod in May's primary (with the winner facing a Republican nominee in November). Election officials also announced that Negrin's name will be first in the ballot listing of the seven Democrats, which is considered a big deal in a multi-candidate race, since apparently Philadelphia voters have the attention span of a hormonal gnat during gnat mating season. Otterbein asked if Negrin is now "the establishment candidate"? Is he also the front-runner?
Maybe, although there's certainly buzz about arguably the most progressive candidate in the race, civil rights attorney Lawrence Krasner, and Tariq El-Shabazz, recently Williams' No. 2 and the only African-American candidate in the crowded field. The others have strong resumes but lower name recognition, and less than 10 weeks to change that.
Right now, what I find fascinating about the election (and it is an interesting race for political junkies, even if the general public isn't paying attention) is that you'd think the FOP candidate would be the lock-'em-up conservative -- but Negrin's platform isn't really that conservative. He seems to be nothing like the police union's current political sweethheart, state Rep. Martina White from Northeast Philly, sponsor of various "Blue Lives Matter" bills in Harrisburg.
In interviews with Otterbein and elsewhere, Negrin has said he agrees with Gov. Wolf's moritorium on the death penalty -- which current DA Williams wasted time, money, and energy fighting. And he called the present FOP-oriented arbitration system that puts cops who've been fired for misconduct back on the streets "broken." On other justice-reform issues like "stop-and-frisk" policing, civil asset forfeiture and ending cash bail, at least for lesser non-violent offenses, Negrin takes positions that are not as aggressively liberal as many of his challengers but which at least do look toward reform.
Negrin's refusal to completely reject "stop-and-frisk" (similar to his ex-boss Nutter) and now today's FOP move will surely lead his rivals to brand him as the conservative in the race; candidate Joe Kahn instantly emailed out with a statement criticizing the police union move as "a return to...stop-and-frisk" and reminding voters that the national FOP endorsed President Trump.
But I'm not sure if that's the biggest story here. I think the news is that even the FOP and arguably "the establishment" candidate would move the DA's office in a more progressive direction on criminal justice -- and some of Negrin's rivals even more so. It's almost certain that the 1980s-style embodied by Lynne Abraham as "America's deadliest DA" and a rising tide of mass incarceration is finally in Philadelphia's rear view mirror. That's what I think we'll remember about the 2017 DA's race, regardless of who wins.