A recent profile of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams by Philadelphia Magazine painted a portrait of a rudderless lawyer, struggling to navigate a morass of scandal partly of his own making.
His political rivals have apparently taken note.
Two possible opponents for the 2017 election cycle, when Williams will in all likelihood run for re-election, were mentioned in the PhillyMag story: former City of Philadelphia Managing Director Rich Negrin, and former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court and current CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern PA Judge Renee Hughes. But sources told City&State that at least four more challengers are waiting in the wings – including a US Attorney involved in the prosecution of a major PA corruption investigation.
“It’s early, but I’m sure there will be plenty of challengers, given the circumstances,” said Michael Barley, a lobbyist with LongNyquist, who was brought in to help clean up Williams’ financial records. “You’ve read the papers.”
The most recent headlines were revelations that the FBI was nosing around in unreported political gifts Williams may have received. But there’s also his long-running and acrimonious feud with fellow Democrat Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Williams was tarnished in that fight by defending his own hiring of ex-AG staffers with ties to the “Porngate” scandal – a move that alienated many of his political allies.
His weakness, perceived or otherwise, has, Barley said, rekindled the interest of Michael Untermeyer, a Republican who lost to Williams in the 2009 DA race; judges Leon Tucker and Paula Patrick were also said to be considering runs.
More intriguing, and possibly damaging for Williams: sources said that some political insiders were encouraging US Attorney Joe Khan to run. Khan, a Northeast Philadelphia native who worked in the District Attorney’s Office with Williams in the 2000s, made headlines more recently for helming a bribery investigation that netted Reading’s City Council President Francisco Acosta.
The optics of a corruption investigator running against a DA currently being investigated for corruption would be less than favorable for Williams. But Khan denied the rumors.
“As a federal employee, I can’t get engaged in electoral politics,” he said.
Mustafa Rashed, a public relations consultant retained by Williams to handle political communications, said that the assemblage of potential challengers wouldn’t amount to much.
“It’s no secret that it is extremely hard to unseat incumbents in Philadelphia,” he said. “It’s doubly hard to mount a successful challenge with low name recognition, lack of institutional support and not having a proven track record of being able to raise money. Also, running in a less-busy, lower-interest election year does not tilt the odds in your favor.”
Meanwhile, Sam Stretton, a lawyer for Williams, said he hoped to resolve Williams’ apparent issues with federal investigators by filing an amended statement of financial interest containing what he described as a complete accounting of gifts received by Williams.
“It’s all there,” he said. “You’ll have a lot to write about.”