The two Democratic candidates for District Attorney have split the party in two over claims of racism and inexperience.
The current District Attorney, Lynne Abraham, has gained negative attention caused by black community leaders who have accused Abraham’s administration of racial bias in controversial cases.
In January, The D.A.’s office and Family court charged three black students from George Washington High School after racial slurs spurred a fight in the school cafeteria. The charges ranged from attempted murder to criminal conspiracy. None of the students charged were white.
“I promise all the members of the public that I will get to the bottom of this,” Abraham said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. ” . . . If I think other people should be arrested and charged, I will do that.”
The charges were dropped a few days before her challenger announced his candidacy.
Other controversial incidents involved the killing of two black men by white police officers and the rape of a black girl by white teenagers. These incidents escalated her political adversaries in the black community to get her out of office.
Jerry Mondesire, Talmadge’s campaign manager, said it started as a protest action and now is a political movement. He said that Talmadge was talented and well-educated attorney with a stellar background and that it was time for Abraham to retire.
“She used her office to go after poor, black individuals,” he said.
“She calls every case that comes across her desk irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity,”said Vincent Thompson, Abraham’s spokesperson on the charges of racial bias.
The District Attorney’s office is in charge of about 300 assistant district attorneys.
“The truth is that the District Attorney’s office handles 10,000 cases a year. She knows she doesn’t please everyone all of the time,” Thompson said.
“We’re going to run our record,” he said of her 10 years of experience as D.A. “They know what she has done.”
But Talmadge’s has his own record. A federal judge found Talmadge and an accomplice guilty of helping a candidate commit ballot fraud in 1994.
Juanita Hatton is a community activist, and a volunteer for Abraham’s re-election campaign. Hatton, who lives in the Nicetown section of North Philadelphia, is used to visiting memorials and watching tears stream down a mother’s eyes as the news of their child’s death lingers in her mind.
“I always see Lynne Abraham there [consoling mothers],” said Hatton.
Hatton understands that Abraham isn’t prosecuting or defending all the cases that come through the DA’s office. “I just don’t like the fact that race enters into a political arena.”
Hatton wants to see real issues discussed like drugs and murder. She always urges younger people to take an interest in politics, an interest in their communities and to research for themselves. “I’m supporting qualifications.”
Talmadge’s qualifications are limited. Talmadge was a city commissioner but had to retire because he placed a bid for the District Attorney’s office. Talmadge has changed the voting booths in Philadelphia that have been used in the past 60 years and has the support of many influential community leaders. But Talmadge admitted to having never tried a murder case.
Truth. Justice. Talmadge are on his campaign banners posted in his offices at Progress Plaza. Talmadge is running an issue-oriented campaign. He wants a two-year moratorium on the death penalty and DNA testing in all applicable cases. He also said that he doesn’t believe trying children as adults is a rule, but an exception.
Mayor John Street has given his support for Abraham’s re-election campaign and questions Talmadge’s ability to run the District Attorney’s Office.
“I think [Talmadge] has the minimum qualifications. He’s a lawyer so therefore presumptively he’s smart enough. But being a prosecutor is more than that. When you have to work with people who go into court and try cases, when you have to supervises literally hundreds of lawyers, it helps to have been in a courtroom,” Street told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Talmadge knows he is not completely experienced trying cases but said that Abraham hasn’t tried a case in twenty years. He said the District Attorney’s office sets policy for the assistant district attorneys in her office.
Talmadge said that Abraham handled several cases badly. Talmadge cited the Washington High School fight, Captain Brady’s drinking-driving cover-up that has still not been prosecuted, and that 90% of African Americans receive the death penalty in capital cases.
Talmadge does offer Philadelphians something they haven’t had in a while.
“People are ready for a change,” Talmadge said. “This is the first time you ever had an option to vote for someone else as district attorney.”
Julie O’Connell is Talmadge’s volunteer coordinator. She had worked for the city council as a legislative aid and several issues crossed her desk that were supposed to be handle by the District Attorney’s office. She mentioned several instances where action was not taken by the District Attorney’s office.
She remembered the time a car hit a little black boy in Germantown. Witnesses saw the driver’s license plate and the police found the driver of the vehicle, but the man was never prosecuted.
She said the evidence was there, but Abraham’s office didn’t even indict the man. The mother of the boy couldn’t afford to pay for the bills from the hospital. “It really left me questioning if there was inequality in the office.”
That is why O’Connell supports Talmadge. “I think he’s very qualified.”
Alma Cosmeus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.