WHEN LARRY KRASNER, a longtime Philadelphia civil rights lawyer, announced he was running to be the city's next district attorney (D.A.), the local establishment treated his candidacy more like a punchline than an actual threat.
Could a guy who's sued the Philadelphia Police Department dozens of times and represented Black Lives Matter protesters really be serious? Who in their right mind runs for district attorney on a platform of not pursuing the death penalty and of refusing to put low-level drug offenders in jail? The president of the local Fraternal Order of Police called Krasner's candidacy "hilarious." When he beat six opponents in the Democratic primary, Philadelphia's biggest newspaper endorsed his Republican opponent.
Nobody's laughing anymore. On November 7, Philadelphia voters made Krasner the city's top prosecutor--the latest, most high-profile example of a candidate who won a D.A. election with an explicit reform platform. But can they change the institution, or will the institution end up changing them?
The first crop of reform-minded prosecutors have done admirable work. Kimm Foxx, the state attorney for Cook County, Illinois, released the first-ever transparency report for her office. In Texas, Harris County D.A. Kim Ogg fired dozens of prosecutors and essentially decriminalized low-level marijuana offenses.
But in other cases, prosecutors haven't delivered. In an October New York Times op-ed, "The Myth of the Progressive Prosecutor,"...