Carlos Vega

Carlos Vega, Democratic candidate for district attorney, campaigns at the intersection of Kensington and East Allegheny avenues on Thursday.

— MICHAEL D’ONOFRIO/PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE PHOTO

Democratic candidate for district attorney Carlos Vega says a “lack of consequence” is driving up the city’s violence and crime.

Vega stood at the intersection of Kensington and East Allegheny avenues on Thursday, a neighborhood at the center of the city’s opioid epidemic. Vega said District Attorney Larry Krasner, the Democratic incumbent, was failing to prosecute crimes and leading an ineffective office.

“When there’s a crime done, there has to be a consequence,” Vega said. “And when there are no consequences, we have this [Kensington] neighborhood.”

Krasner will face Vega in the May 18 Democratic primary. The Philadelphia Democratic City Committee’s executive board decided last week to back neither Krasner nor Vega, giving leeway to the city’s Democratic ward leaders to support the candidate of their choice.

Brandon Evans, Krasner’s campaign manager, pushed back against Vega’s accusations, saying the issues in the Kensington neighborhood stemmed from “decades of divestment from government, which results from a lazy and dangerous belief that law enforcement and prosecution can fix deep societal problems of poverty and racism.”

Evans said violence will continue until government invests in education, youth programming, job training and more.

“It is abominable that Larry’s opponent elects to tell lies for his political gain rather than advocate for things that actually build communities up and keep people safe,” Evans said.

Charles Peruto Jr. is running as the lone Republican in that party’s primary. He has vowed to drop out of the race if Vega prevails in the Democratic primary.

Vega accused Krasner’s office of withdrawing or dismissing the majority of firearm-related cases. Data from the district attorney’s Public Data Dashboard appears to back up Vega’s claim.

Krasner’s office has withdrawn or dismissed 63% of all firearm cases through Wednesday, compared with 38% at the same time last year and 26% in 2017, the latter of which was the year before Krasner took office, according to the online database.

For violent crime-related cases, Krasner’s office has withdrawn or dismissed 77.5% of cases through Wednesday, compared with 61% during the same time last year and 53% in 2017, according to the online database.

Evans said Vega was grandstanding about crime while offering no solutions to gun violence.

Krasner’s office had an 85% conviction rate for shooting cases, among the highest in the country, before city courts shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic last year, Evans said.

The district attorney’s office cannot prosecute individuals without evidence, Evans added.

“[Vega] then ignores that a [district attorney’s] office can only bring cases that it can actually prove, and unfortunately, many of the charges that police bring to the [district attorney’s] office lack any evidence actually linking the gun to an identified individual,” Evans said.

Vega pledged to continue and bolster the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, saying it was currently “too small.” The unit investigates and reviews convicted offenders’ claims of innocence and wrongful conviction. Under Krasner, the unit has secured at least 19 exonerations, leading to the release of those individuals.

Vega briefly acknowledged issues within the criminal justice system that have led to the disproportionate incarceration of people of color — “injustice, system racism, all those issues.”

If elected, Vega said he would focus on prosecuting low-level offenders but he supported providing individuals with pre-arrest interventions, including for those with drug addictions or mental health issues.

“Because if I don’t address those petty crimes,” Vega said, “these businesses will be out of business, which will create more poverty and more crime.”

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