Longtime Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham has applied for an appointment to fill out the remainder of DA Seth Williams’ term.
“I submitted my paperwork today,” Abraham told City&State PA, in a Thursday phone interview. “I think that given events of the past couple of years, the office needs to return to a sense of mission and purpose.”
A board of judges will convene over the next week to vote on an appointee that will complete Williams’s term, which expires next January. The two-term DA recently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.
Abraham said that if selected, she will seek no salary or other compensation, describing her interest as a “public service.” She said she would not try to parlay the appointment into a permanent staff position under the victor of November’s general election.
“It’s very demoralizing to work in an office when your leader is ruining the mission of the office,” she said, referencing Williams’ frequent personal scandals. “That was an anomaly. We should go back to being the type of office we’ve always been.”
Previously, Abraham served as the city’s DA for nearly two decades, from 1991 to 2010, after being appointed by judges to complete Ron Castille’s term in office. She won a reputation as a tough-on-crime Democrat during her tenure – alsogarnering media nicknames like the “Deadliest DA” for her use of the death penalty.
But former defense lawyer Larry Krasner’s win in May’s Democratic DA primary is just one of many signals that the city’s political climate has shifted in a more progressive direction on criminal justice issues since Abraham left office in 2009.
Even Williams, whom she hired as an assistant district attorney, backed some changes - like marijuana decriminalization and increased diversionary programs – that would have been unthinkable in the ’90s.
Abraham said she would not seek to reverse these efforts or undermine the agenda of her possible successor: Krasner and his Republican opponent Beth Grossman are vying to succeed Williams.
“Here’s the reality: In about five and a half months, the job of the interim DA is not to engage in wholesale change,” she said. “I will not impinge the prerogatives of the next DA. Although, I also do not presume that Larry Krasner is going to win in November.”
Krasner’s campaign did not offer a comment on Abraham’s interest in the post. But the longtime defense attorney was recently interviewed by Philadelphia Magazine about his thoughts on Abraham.
“You want to find the bottom of the barrel, that’s where the bottom of the barrel is,” Krasner said, of Abraham’s tenure.
Grossman, meanwhile, was more ebullient on the prospect of a second Abraham era at the Philly DAO.
"Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham certainly knows how the District Attorney's Office runs and would be able to immediately begin to restore much needed direction and consistency to its day to day operations," she said.
Abraham is the latest big name to jump into the appointment battle – other high-profile candidates are also vying for the job, including the primary’s runner-up Democratic DA candidate, Joe Khan, retired Judge Paul Panepinto, and judges Ben Lerner and D. Webster Keogh. Kathleen Martin, an administrator who effectively ran the DAO during Williams’ imbroglio, is also in the mix.
Still other names have been circulating in the rumor mill as possible entrants: ADAs like John Delaney and Kelly Hodges, and judges Leon Tucker and Dan McCaffery have all expressed their interest in the appointment, sources told City&State PA.
Khan has been one of the most vocal about his ambitions. Ken Snyder, a former Khan campaign consultant, said the following about Abraham’s ambitions.
“Lynn Abraham would be a bridge to the past, while Joe Khan would be a bridge to the future,” he remarked.
A filing deadline for applications will expire tomorrow.