Taking a break from his “heated campaign” against incumbent Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Seth Williams, democratic candidate favored to become the first African-American district attorney in Philadelphia next week, discussed his future plans and the media’s role or lack thereof, in his campaign with Prof. George Miller’s journalism and society class last Tuesday.
“We have to recognize that we don’t live in a post-racial society, that people do care about peoples’ race,” Williams said in reference to whether race has figured prominently into his campaign. “Not as much as they used to, but there will always be this issue.”
Williams said the Philadelphia DA’s office processes 75,000 cases annually, ranging from homicides (254 in the city so far this year) to people spitting on public property.
“I recognize that we use our resources in a lot of ways that are pretty stupid,” Williams said. “We have seven times the number of people in prisons in Pennsylvania today than we did 30 years ago, but we’re not seven times safer.”
Since 1991, Republican Lynne Abraham has been responsible for cleaning up Philadelphia’s crime.
In 2005, Williams came close to replacing Abraham, but ultimately lost the election with 46 percent of the vote.
Rather than spending money on an abundance of television ads in order to counteract those of his opponent, Williams has chosen to “build relationships” by embracing the public through a series of youtube videos and networking via MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, he said.
According to a statement on votesethwilliams.com, “Philadelphia’s criminal justice system is fundamentally broken, making every neighborhood less safe and wasting tens of millions of dollars annually at a time when the city and state face unprecedented financial strain.”
Williams credits the need for a fair justice system in Philadelphia as one of his primary reasons for his decision to run in the election.
If he replaces Abraham in 2009, he said a decreasing budget and the “stop snitching” trend will provide the most difficult challenges his department will face.
“We have to let people know that the district attorney is a protector of the community, not an oppressor,” he said.
Another challenge Williams faces in his campaign is the lack of publicity typically received by the DA election.
Although some media coverage has been allotted to his campaign, many Philadelphians are unaware of the historical event that may occur within the upcoming week.
Under “A New DA on a New Day,” Williams’ department will aim to invest more funding in preventative crime methods, such as reintegration programs and a new initiative called DART — the District Attorney Response Team. This program will seek to involve the community in the criminal justice system by assigning individual assistant district attorneys to particular districts in order to transform the role of a DA “from handcuffs to hands-on.”
Hillary Petrozziello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.