- Associated Press - Sunday, March 12, 2017

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The race to replace Philadelphia’s first black district attorney is gearing up to be the hottest in the city this year, after Seth Williams announced he won’t run for a third term amid an FBI investigation.

Seven Democrats and a lone Republican filed paperwork by Tuesday’s deadline to be listed on the ballot for the May 16 primary. Since Democrats have a stranglehold on citywide offices, primaries tend to decide elections.

Williams, a Democrat, announced last month he wouldn’t seek another term over the probe into $160,000 in gifts that he failed to report. He eventually reported taking a new roof, a $2,700 couch and luxury vacations, including the use of a defense lawyer’s home in the Florida Keys. Williams has agreed to pay $62,000 in related ethics fines.

Williams, 50, has said he intends to stay in the $175,000-a-year job through January.

Among the challengers jumping into the race are a former judge, a civil rights lawyer and several with long careers in public service.

Tariq El-Shabazz recently resigned as first assistant district attorney to run as a Democrat for Williams‘ seat. In announcing his candidacy, he vowed to fight mass incarceration and reform the probation system. He also said he’s working to resolve his nearly $200,000 in tax debts. He worked as an assistant district attorney from 1988 to 1993 before leaving to start a private practice as a defense attorney.

Former city and state prosecutor Michael Untermeyer said he is running to focus on fairness and equity for every Philadelphia resident. He made headlines when he ran for the job in 2009, that time as a Republican, and wore a GPS ankle monitoring bracelet for a month. He was trying to show the city could save millions of dollars by moving nonviolent defendants out of the prison system and keeping tabs on them electronically instead. Visitors to his website could track his whereabouts.

Former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni resigned in December to gear up to challenge Williams after two decades on the bench. In 2007, she was rebuked by a professional association for lawyers for refusing to uphold sexual assault charges against a man accused of letting friends rape a prostitute he had hired. Deni said she considered the case “theft of services.”

She heightened the furor when she defended her decision to the Philadelphia Daily News, saying the victim “consented and she didn’t get paid.” Deni also told the newspaper the case “minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped.” She recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer that case is an unfair measure of her 21-year career.

Federal prosecutor Joe Khan announced his candidacy back in the fall when Williams was still an incumbent. He calls himself a progressive reformer whose plans include no longer prosecuting simple drug possession cases and replacing the cash bail system. He wants to make the welfare of the city’s children and fighting sexual assault and domestic violence top priorities, according to his campaign website.

Former city managing director Rich Negrin entered the race in December. Negrin, a Cuban-American who fled to the U.S. when he was 13, served in former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration until 2015, when he joined a law firm as a partner. In a promotional video, he describes witnessing his father’s murder in Cuba, and says he’ll focus on helping communities feel safe.

Lawrence Krasner, a prominent civil rights lawyer and opponent of the death penalty, said he plans to make the city safer without incarcerating more minorities and poor people. He also wants to abolish the death penalty. He argues it’s a waste of time and resources to pursue the death penalty, considering Pennsylvania isn’t executing anyone under a moratorium.

Former city prosecutor Jack O’Neill dropped off his paperwork to run for the job without making a formal announcement. The lawyer who currently has a case on trial told Newsworks his priorities will be justice for victims and focusing on opioid addiction in the city.

The sole Republican to file a nomination petition was Beth Grossman, who spent 21 years in the DA’s office before leaving for private practice two years ago. She said she switched from Democrat to Republican in an effort to loosen the grip that the Democratic party has on the city.

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