DA Candidate Tariq El-Shabazz with City Councilman Mark Squilla (Public Record)

There’s something poignant about District Attorney candidate Tariq El-Shabazz’s candidacy that isn’t being talked about in the papers but it’s being talked about a lot on Facebook:  he might win.

In way El-Shabazz resembles or reflects the latest turn of political candidates to come out of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee; candidates who themselves resemble facets of the city’s malaise.  In Tariq El-Shabazz’s case it’s a mountain of tax debt he owes.  In a city where 1 out of every 6 properties aren’t paying taxes, who’d be surprised that political candidates surface also owing buckets of money? There’s also that strange petition for a protection from abuse order that he doesn’t like to talk about.

El-Shabazz has spent the majority of his career representing criminal defendants at the state and Federal level.   He’s been up close and personal counseling the folks who have a criminal past and knows the logic that besets them.

Some folks are taking Tariq’s campaign as some sort of joke, as if he entered the race as a clown-car attraction.  There’s also some gross misstatements being made privately by some fairly competent Philly journalists out there that should probably be left far away from print.   Here’s a very glaring example:

I’m going to have to take issue with this cartoon that appeared in the Star Newspapers a week ago.   The only Pennsylvania court docket filings where El-Shabazz appears as a defendant is when he was benchslapped 18 years ago by a judge in court for an outburst.  That’s hardly criminal.   He’s clean in Federal court.  Yet in all sorts of social circles I hear El-Shabazz being described like he’s had some criminal past, which he clearly doesn’t.    This cartoon claiming El-Shabazz “Breaks the Law” is innuendo.   If this is the standard for declaring a political candidate as a law-breaker, then everyone who’s ever had an unpaid traffic ticket shouldn’t serve which would leave nobody qualified-enough for office.

Hell, having loads of unpaid traffic tickets and a revoked driver’s license was the leading qualification for a Traffic Court judge.

Character That’s Only Skin-Deep?

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way I’ll talk about some of the rhetoric you’re not reading in print but journalists are talking about online.   There is certainly a strong feeling that Tariq El-Shabazz’s campaign strategy to win is purely identity-based.  Or to put it in baser terms, Tariq is running purely on his skin color and he anticipates that voters in Philadelphia will choose melanin-content as the primary qualification for this job. Everything else about him is supplementary.

While plenty could feel certain that could be true, here’s what El-Shabazz actually said at his kickoff campaign launch in the Tribune:

“While some might attempt to paint me as the African-American candidate or the Black candidate in this race, I simply prefer that you know me as the most experienced candidate,” El-Shabazz said.

Until he does something between now and the May primary that makes it clearly obvious he’s simply the “black candidate” and nothing but that, you should probably keep your assumptions in check.

But Won’t He Get Clicked by the Feds Like Seth Williams?

There’s no indication that any of that mountain of tax debt El-Shabazz owes could mutate into anything deeper.   If Seth Williams gets indicted, maybe there could be some El-Shabazz tie-ins to Seth as they are close friends.   However, nothing suggests that the tax liens are anything more than just liens.  If he’s DA, he’ll be forced to pay them down.  He has no other choice.

El-Shabazz so far has refused to go into details about why he’s amassed this much debt and he insists he’s paying it off.  He won’t produce any actual evidence that he has entered into payment arrangements and is actually actively paying it down.  That my friends is a failing and his unwillingness to be honest about that question should be explored if he won’t capitulate.

The debt itself could be a distraction for him as District Attorney but I doubt it.   Former PHA head Carl Greene had a mental breakdown over personal debts that were half of what El-Shabazz presently owes, but the debt itself didn’t cause Greene to decamp the city and disappear.  The tax debt led to all the accusations of womanizing he partook in while head of the housing authority. That’s what ultimately brought him down.   El-Shabazz on the other hand launched a political campaign while his tax debts were full knowledge before he even decided to run.  They were first published here on PDQ.

So What, Then?

Perhaps liberal-progressives in particular should be a bit more forthright with their motives.  Right now they’re trying to be sneaky.  It’s very clear who their pick for DA is.   It’s Larry Krasner.  Krasner has done legal work for the Occupy movement and the local Philly BLM chapter Coalition for R.E.A.L. Justice.  Spokesperson Asa Khalif is outright endorsing Krasner and retorting to anyone online openly backing El-Shabazz.

I’m not going to replay the screenshots of the social media chatter here, but in-general the take on El-Shabazz in progressive circles is that he is a poseur.   On any normal day of the year that’s not a District Attorney’s race, plenty of these folk would actually back El-Shabazz.   It’s just that Krasner’s work history and his platform are much more amenable to social justice movements that liberal-progressives are vexed about attacking El-Shabazz, since attacking on identity would be problematic if not highly hypocritical, and so far as yet there’s nothing obvious that suggests El-Shabazz is a shallow candidate.

If anything, it’s the large number of white candidates for DA in the Democratic Primary that’s more vexing to liberal-progressives.   Richard Negrin turned in the most ballot petition signatures in the race, which signals to other candidates how much support he has.  Michael Untermeyer has the best access to campaign finance.   It’s unclear what voter base the rest of the Dem candidates will draw upon but if they don’t start to set themselves apart from each other on policy for the office, they’ll drown in obscurity.


To help with that, Philadelinquency sent out questionnaires to all the candidates this month to nail down each candidate on what their intent is if they become the District Attorney.   Several of the DA candidates have already signaled that they’re working on responses.   We’ll get to see by April 20 who can separate themselves out of the pack.

Tags: |