PHILADELPHIA (CBS)--The already-crowded race for Philadelphia District Attorney just got another candidate.
He’s a former top deputy to the current DA, Seth Williams. Williams has announced he won’t run again.
Tariq El-Shabazz resigned from the DA’s office, almost immediately after Williams announced he wouldn’t run again and, as El-Shabazz joked, the reason was clear.
“Let me share the worst-kept secret in Philadelphia. I’m running for District Attorney.”
El-Shabazz outlined an ambitious plan to end mass incarceration and overhaul the parole and probation system, but he was also asked about $190,000 in tax liens against him.
“We are working to settle all debt that I have, but more importantly I can tell you, none of that debt has prevented me from being the prosecutor that I was as First Deputy, as Chief.” El-Shabazz added that he’s never done anything illegal. “The tax debt is civil, not criminal,” he said.
“It is a debt that I owe, no doubt about it. [I]never ran from it,” El Shabazz said. “It’s a debt that was based on honesty, no doubt about it . I didn’t go around corners to try and skim anyone.”
El-Shabazz is the sixth Democrat in the race, but the only African-American candidate trying to succeed Williams, who was the city’s first African-American district attorney.
A defense attorney for two decades, and more recently, the number two in the district attorney’s office, El-Shabazz said the numerous tax liens would not undermine the integrity of the office.
In a campaign biography, El-Shabazz is described as one of the “finest litigators in America.” His career began in the Philly D.A.’s office before he moved to private defense work. The tax lien records pulled by CBS 3 on El-Shabazz go back years. Most are held by the IRS and are tied to various properties. He wouldn’t describe the nature of the liens, only saying he had a repayment plan.
Some in the crowd, a Chestnut Hill restaurant stacked with his supporters, grew irritated at reporters’ inquiries. El-Shabazz was also pressed about his relationship with Williams.
“I’m not going to allow anybody to get me to kick him under the bus,” he said in response to questions about his role in Williams’ administration.
The embattled district attorney announced earlier this month he would not seek a third term. Williams has been dogged by an ethics investigation over gifts from friends, which triggered a $60,000 fine from the ethics board, the largest penalty leveled against a city official.
Under Williams, the office has also come under the scrutiny of federal agents, according to sources familiar with the case. “Please do not try to put spillage on Tariq El-Shabazz by the failings of Seth Williams,” El-Shabazz said.
The race for district attorney is crowded. Former prosecutors Michael Untermeyer and Joe Khan, former municipal court Judge Teresa Carr Deni, attorney Lawrence Krasner and former city managing director Rich Negrin make up the Democratic ticket. Beth Grossman is running on the Republican side unopposed.
CBS 3 obtained statements from the following campaigns:
“Mr. El-Shabazz is Seth Williams’ hand-picked successor and right hand man, and will change nothing. He never once questioned Mr. Williams’ behavior, or proposed bold new progressive ideas. Joe Khan, on the other hand, had the courage to take on Seth Williams months ago, offering a broad vision of a more fair criminal justice system, and a D.A.’s office that operates ethically.”
– Joe Khan
“With another candidate in the race, I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation we’ve been having with voters about how we can bring integrity, reform, and leadership back to the district attorney’s office. My view is that we need to make a clean break from the outgoing DA and start fresh to make Philadelphia a model for the rest of the country. I feel confident that my background gives me the experience I need to deliver real change to an office that’s critical to the success of our city.”
“We are glad to see more candidates enter the race, it (is) good for the process and for our city. However, with the widespread corruption and indictments that pollinate the Philadelphia Democratic Party, I don’t see how the cities (sic) top prosecutor can spawn from the party of corruption.”
– James Williams for Beth Grossman
“I welcome all voices into this campaign, as well as the voices of community leaders and citizens across our city. I hope this race becomes an important discussion on the best ways to reform our criminal justice system into one of fairness and keep our city safe.”