Campaigns & Elections

Progressives win big races in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner Michael Candelori

Progressives held onto victories in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh primary races, a sign that the movement is continuing its push in big cities. 

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, an incumbent, defeated his challenger Carlos Vega in a landslide. Meanwhile, state Rep. Ed Gainey unseated incumbent Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh’s mayoral race. 

The primary elections in the two cities turned into referendums on gun violence and policing as homicides have skyrocketed over the last couple years. Krasner had a reform-driven approach to his previous campaign, and maintained that message through this one, but critics said he didn’t do enough in his first term to show he’s capable of systemic change. Despite facing formidable challengers, both Krasner and Gainey rallied around big-named endorsements and financial support from around the state. 

“This overwhelming victory is a strong sign that Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are both headed for a future that prioritizes investments in people and communities,” Jessica Brand, spokesperson for Krasner, said in a statement. “It is also a sign that the progressive prosecutor movement is alive and well and working, and we expect to see more victories in 2021 and 2022.”

In both races, candidates sparred over ways to improve police-community relations. Although all candidates were in agreement on the need for improvement, Krasner and Gainey’s messages of cracking down on police misconduct and reforming parole and probation won over city residents. 

With no Republican running against him in the general election, Gainey is now poised to become Pittsburgh’s first ever Black mayor. His campaign’s focus on equity for all will now lead to history, but he knows it’s just the beginning. 

“One person can’t change a city,” Gainey said to his supporters late Tuesday night. “A city is changed with all of us. A city is changed when we all come together to improve the quality of life for everyone.” 

Gainey set himself apart from Peduto in emphasizing the disproportionate number of Black residents being impacted by police. He was able to appeal to Black Pittsburghers, calling out Peduto for empty promises and leaving neighborhoods of color out to dry. Gainey’s campaign did not respond when City & State reached out for comment. 

On the other side of the Commonwealth, the heated race between Krasner and his challenger Vega seemed closer as some Philadelphia Democrats avoided endorsing a candidate. Vega also got an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, but the police-backing may have ultimately hurt him more than helped him. 

“They’re still counting votes, but it’s clear that people voted to prioritize housing over caging, schools over prisons, and healing over punishment,” Amands McIllmurray, political director, Reclaim Philadelphia, told City & State. “The DA’s race in Philadelphia was clearly Philadelphians versus the (Fraternal Order of Police), and the people won.” 

A combination of anti-police sentiment, and a surprisingly large turnout for a primary election, helped Krasner secure a decisive win. In fact, turnout in Philadelphia was higher this year than it was in Krasner’s 2017 win, and a large portion of his support also came from predominantly Black wards. 

McIllmurray said for working people, “it’s becoming increasingly clear to people that they cannot sit on the sidelines.”