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.

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Tariq El-Shabazz (Inquirer)

A new candidate has now officially thrown his hat into the District Attorney’s race: Tariq El-Shabazz.   Or as I prefer to refer to him: the “orange bearded fellow”, visible from great distances, that magnificent mane that no one can help but notice.

There’s a lot of things that bring me pause to El Shabazz as well as those who serve in law enforcement who have been talking to me about him.

He’s financially destitute.   El-Shabazz owes the state and federal government loads of money in back tax liens.  Mounting tax liens in the six-figure range is not a sign of great financial management and it would seem he’s closer to declaring bankruptcy than he is declaring victory in a DA’s race.  He says he has it all wrapped into a payment agreement–but so far he won’t disclose any proof such an agreement exists.  Considering that new liens are being attached to him; it’s highly unlikely that what he’s saying can be believed.

His most recent experience has been as a defense attorney.  And it wasn’t a very successful career as one.   A few lawyers that know him mutually that I have spoken with did comment positively that he’s been effective at trial.  However his business acumen in keeping a defense law practice up and going?  Not so much.   Philadelinquency uncovered that his law practice was evicted for non-payment of rent.

These are just some of the basic things we know.   Today I have something to show you that’s a lot bleaker.


A Montgomery County court docket that was sent to PDQ by courier shows that in 2009 an individual filed with a court a Protection From Abuse petition.   A “PFA” is a court order barring a stalker from going anywhere near a person they are abusing.  Usually they are filed due to domestic violence and for stalking cases.   If the order is violated this gives local police the right to immediately incarcerate an individual as violating a PFA order is itself a crime.

In this particular protection from abuse order Tariq El-Shabazz fought to have it upended by hiring a lawyer who got the PFA reversed.  While PDQ does not have copies of the actual court filings themselves, the docket seems to indicate that the PFA was indeed withdrawn.

More information has come to PDQ that also seems to cast serious doubt as to Tariq El-Shabazz as being a resident of Philadelphia.   Like the case with Fred Ramirez who lives in Bristol but wants to be a state representative for North Philly, Tariq El-Shabazz has been known to live in Hatboro, PA for a number of years.    The person that filed the protection of abuse order against him also lives in Willow Grove in Montgomery County.

He Probably Won’t Want To Talk About It

Like his IRS liens, I’m pretty sure El-Shabazz won’t want to talk about protection from abuse orders to the media or even to the public who are voting in the election this May.  Leaving this PFA unanswered is not going to be a winning strategy.

There’s also been some vexing in the local press about there not being a black candidate running for DA after Keir Bradford-Grey declined to run for the position, even after (alleged) coaxing from the likes of billionaire Democrat-funder George Soros.

If Tariq El-Shabazz is hoping to ride into the District Attorney’s Office solely on the content of his skin alone and have identity politics carry him to the finish line that may not work.

While the voter turnout is expected to be low, this is the year where the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police matters a great deal.  Many in law enforcement who live in Philadelphia from the police (well, those who haven’t moved out of the city yet), prison guards, Sheriff’s deputies and Federal court employees not to mention all the other workers who interact with the criminal justice system on a routine basis as employees—that’s thousands of people here–do turn out and vote as they do care deeply about who the next DA is.   The DA’s office is something they interact with on a routine basis and have a personal interest in the outcome of the race.

Moreover, the Democratic City Committee has made it a point not to endorse any candidate, leaving ward leaders of the city who go to the expense of printing out sample ballots free to endorse whomever they want.   Usually a ward leader will tip their hat to whomever is the most generous with their donations to the ward.

Another factor will be where voters vote.   For instance, citywide elections matter little to areas like Fishtown, Point Breeze or Strawberry Mansion where voter turnout is traditionally low.  It will matter a great deal to Northwest Philadelphia where voter turnout performance in off-season elections is much higher than average and to law enforcement who lives in those wards and up in the Northeast.

This will also be the first District Attorney’s race where Black Lives Matter could possibly be a factor in the outcome.  It remains to be seen if BLM can organize anything by May to activate people to vote.   Don’t count on BLM endorsing Tariq El-Shabazz though–he is best-buds with DA Seth Williams and that’s how he landed in his role as First ADA in the first place.

What Now?

With the DA’s office now an anything-goes, anyone-could-be-DA situation, El-Shabazz’s entry doesn’t create any new certainties in this chaotic scramble to replace Seth Williams.

It also doesn’t help that Philadelphians aren’t going to be that good expressing what they really want from a District Attorney.   It’s up to the batch of candidates running to try to stand out on their own with a vision of what law enforcement in our city should look like.

Would a pro-criminal DA that’s light on enforcement prove more popular with the public?

Perhaps a return to Lynne Abraham’s tough-cookie rule would be more palpable?

I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.   A lot of people in Philly are very passionate about what they think is wrong with the criminal justice system in Philly, and their answers on how to fix it are impossible to pin down–but they know they’re angry.  I know I am as well.

Illegal gun prosecutions in Philly have dropped by more than half since Seth Williams took office and our homicide rate has been climbing.

That’s not good.

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District Attorney Seth Williams (photo: Inquirer)
District Attorney Seth Williams (photo: Inquirer)

District Attorney Seth Williams knows a thing or two about late bills.   He once had a lien on his house for gas.  He’s owed credit card companies.   He even has had some financing difficulties with his campaign that caused him to search out Republicans for help.

The recent appointment of Tariq El-Shabazz to a lead role at the District Attorney’s office has turned heads.   “I never in my life thought a washed-out defense attorney would be made supervisor over investigations,” a source intimate with the DA’s office’s internals told me.  “But that’s just Rufus helping out his friends.”

Rufus is Seth William’s legal first name.

That source I have to keep anonymous because Williams has demonstrated paranoia in the past about leakers.

Washed Out?

El-Shabazz up until recently had maintained an office in 100 S Broad Street at Shabazz & Harris, LLC, next door to the DA’s office.   In addition to state and federal tax liens filed in Common Pleas court against Tariq El-Shabazz, Philadelinquency has discovered that El-Shabazz’s office was repossessed by the landlord for failure to pay rent:

In 2014 the landlord also filed for eviction, again for unpaid rent.  That particular case was withdrawn by the landlord, which typically indicates a payment arrangement or the renter catching up on arrears.  Interestingly enough in January the IRS filed a personal tax lien against El-Shebazz for that same year:

Given El-Shabazz’s known friendship to Williams, this hire does seem to have a lot more to do with helping out a friend in financial distress than it might about protecting the people of Pennsylvania.

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Tariq Al-Shabazz (from Twitter)
Tariq Al-Shabazz (from Twitter)

District Attorney Seth Williams announced the hire of Tariq El-Shabazz into the office on Thursday as the DA’s chief investigator, the No. 2 spot in the City’s law enforcement office.

A lawyer and frequent guest on WURD 900AM, El-Shabazz had run his own law firm that seems to have accumulated some debt.   I haven’t looked into the debt, but one thing quite unusual here the number of liens amassed.

El-Shabazz picked up a new personal tax lien just before the announcement of his new job at the DA’s office.

Tariq Al-Shabazz tax liens
Tariq Al-Shabazz tax liens
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