Rendell, calling DA's Office 'in crisis,' endorses Khan in Democratic primary

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who once served as Philadelphia's district attorney, jokes that Joe Khan (left) whom he endorsed on Wednesday, will be the city's second-best DA. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia's district attorney is "obviously in crisis," former Gov. Ed Rendell declared Wednesday as he endorsed former federal prosecutor Joe Khan in the Democratic primary for the position.

Rendell, who served as district attorney from 1978 to 1985, did not mention the current officeholder, Seth Williams, while standing next to Khan in the Mayor's Reception Room in City Hall.

But the federal indictment filed against Williams two weeks ago, accusing him of accepting bribes in return for official acts and of stealing money meant for the care of his elderly mother, was clearly on his mind.

"The DA's Office absolutely needs someone of unquestioned integrity and someone who is an experienced prosecutor," Rendell said, calling the office "in need of a new and good district attorney." 

Khan spent six years as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia before becoming a federal prosecutor for nearly a decade.  He left that job last year to run for office and is one of seven Democrats in the primary.

Rendell said he met with two other Democratic candidates, former city Managing Director Rich Negrin and real estate investor Michael Untermeyer, who worked as an assistant district attorney when Rendell was in charge of the office.

He said that either Negrin or Untermeyer "would be more than adequate as DA," but that Khan, whom he did not know before they met for an interview, convinced him he was the best candidate.

"I think Joe Khan has an ability to be a game-changer for the justice system," Rendell said. "He's young. He's a new face. He is what the Democratic Party needs in Philadelphia."

In an off-year election, which typically draws light voter turnout, fund-raising becomes crucial. Campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show a fund-raising battle shaping up between Khan and Untermeyer.

Untermeyer reported having $455,766 in the bank as of March 27.  That included $550,000 he has lent his campaign since December, triggering a clause in the city’s campaign finance law that doubled the allowable contributions in the race to $6,000 for individuals and $28,500 for political action committees.

Untermeyer ran as a Republican for district attorney in 2009, losing to Williams, and for City Council in 2011. He became the first candidate in the 2017 campaign to start running television commercials last week in a six-figure buy of air time.

Khan, standing with Rendell, knocked Untermeyer as "a former Republican who has repeatedly run for office and failed to win the support of Philadelphians" who now is "trying to buy the election with his own money."

Untermeyer, who also ran as a Democrat for sheriff in 2007, said he has always run as a reformer, no matter what his party registration was.

"It's a shame Joe wants to attack everyone else running for this office," he said. "I'm not trying to tear anyone down in this campaign."

Tuesday’s reports show that Khan had $442,635 in the bank as of March 27 and dipped into his own funds, lending his campaign $54,000 on March 14.

Negrin reported having $189,121 in the bank as of March 27.  Civil rights attorney Lawrence Krasner had $127,592.  

Tariq El-Shabazz, who resigned in February as Williams’ first assistant in the District Attorney’s Office, had $10,425 on hand as of March 27.

Former Assistant District Attorney John O'Neill, the last candidate to enter the primary, reported  raising $11,243 from Jan. 1 to March 27 and spending none of it. He also listed $19,500 in "in-kind contributions," including free services from three communications consultants. 

Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni's campaign said she will file her report Thursday.

Williams dropped his bid for a third term Feb. 10. Since his indictment, he has insisted that he will remain in office until his current term ends in early January.  

His predecessor, former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, and high-profile attorney Richard Sprague filed suit this week in Common Pleas Court asking that Williams be removed from office.

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