When Rich Negrin talks about why he wants to be Philadelphia's district attorney, he talks about his ideas, his legal and managerial experience, and about a tragic, formative experience from his youth.
"My dad was murdered in front of me, shot dead with a Mac-10 submachine gun while he and I were getting into the car," he said.
Negrin is a former Philadelphia managing director and one of seven Democrats seeking the party's nomination for district attorney this spring.
He was 13 when his father, a Cuban immigrant, was killed by two members of an extremist anti-Castro group. He testified against the assassins at trial.
"The first lawyer I ever met was the prosecutor who was prosecuting the terrorist group that killed my father," Negrin said in an interview. "So, in many ways, the worst, most shocking event of my youth was the thing that propelled me to learn about law."
Negrin said he talks about the experience with kids in Philadelphia who live with gun violence, and it helps them connect.
Negrin spent five years after law school prosecuting cases in the Philadelphia district attorney's office.
He then worked in private practice, as a corporate lawyer for Aramark, and then as a senior manager in city government — first for the Board of Revision of Taxes and then as managing director under Mayor Michael Nutter.
Being the city's top prosecutor presents plenty of policy dilemmas, but it's also a huge management job. The district attorney's office has 500 employees and a $52 million budget.
Negrin said he learned something about managing and turning around large organizations, and that's something the office needs.
"The DA's office is a turnaround job," he said. "It is an office is crisis. Morale is low, and I hope to bring my experience to fix it."
Negrin sees problems with the city's bail system and the asset-forfeiture program, a controversial practice of seizing homes, cars and money in investigations — sometimes from people who haven't been charged with a crime.
Saying that he wants to make changes in both, Negrin said he will take some time to study practices in other cities before endorsing a specific plan.
One of his biggest priorities, he said, is to find a way to get young people without criminal records who face drug or nonviolent offense charges out of the court system and into programs of treatment and training.
"You know, that the first felony is a lifetime sentence of poverty," he said, "and that's what leads to eventual mass incarceration and the revolving door of being in and out of the justice system."
How do you prevent that?
Negrin said he hopes to use his relationships in the public and private sectors to provide real resources for a diversion program aimed at saving first-time offenders from a life of crime.
You can hear more of my interview with Rich Negrin by playing the audio above.
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