Beth Grossman: Getting to Know the Lone Republican in the District Attorney Race
Considering where Beth Grossman grew up, it would be easy to call her a suburban girl. Lower Moreland has great schools, single homes, low crime — the works. It’s the type of place where you’re guaranteed to see a white picket fence somewhere. But during that time her parents owned and operated a candy store on the 3100 block of Kensington Avenue.
“My parents bought the store when I was six [years-old]. I grew up playing in there. When I was in high school I worked there on my school breaks,” Grossman said.
But as the neighborhood started to change in the 80s, her family made a tough decision. “My mom sold it in 1987 when Crack was really beginning to hit,” she said. “She had a lot of concerns because it really would’ve been an easy place to rob. It was all women, it was cash. My mother didn’t have a gun, [so] she sold it.”
It wasn’t until after college and law school, though, that the changes really hit home. “I started my first year in the DA’s Office. That’s when preliminary hearings were at the police districts. I remember being assigned to Front and Westmoreland.” Grossman decided to take a trip down memory lane, a.k.a. Kensington Ave. “I hadn’t been there in ages. And as I drove down it, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what happened here?’”
So earlier this year, when Grossman decided to announce her candidacy, she knew where to go. “I bought my prom dress on the Avenue. I would go shopping up and down there,” she said. “And now it’s the epicenter of so much addiction, and so much is going on, and it just breaks my heart because there are still businesses there. There are still residents who live there who are devoted to their neighborhood. It needs so much from the DA’s Office and from city agencies. That’s why I wanted to announce [my candidacy] there.”
Grossman is also a familiar face in the DA’s Office. “I spent 21 and a half years there under two administrations [those of Seth Williams and Lynne Abraham],” she said. “I actually served in [all six] divisions. For two years I served as the assistant chief for the Municipal Court unit where you train the new [ADA’s] who come in, teach them the laws and how to try cases and how to navigate Philadelphia’s unique criminal justice system,” she said. That unit handles the bulk of cases, between 40,000 and 50,000 a year. “It is controlled chaos,” Grossman added.
Grossman is known for handling the controversial civil forfeitures for the DA’s office. “For eight years I was chief of the public nuisance task force unit, which deals with the forfeiture of drug houses, drug businesses, nuisance bars,” she said. “Dealing with drug houses and civil forfeitures is really about how buildings themselves can create public safety issues. And a lot of times it may not have ended up being a drug house but something L&I-related.”
Grossman said the high-profile civil forfeiture cases may give folks a bad impression. She agrees that due process is not guaranteed in these cases.
“[All cases] are to be looked at for what its merits are, what the issues are, what types of drugs, who was the owner, what I can tell you is yes, you’re not entitled to have counsel appointed but we always made sure to treat pro se respondents fairly to make sure that they understood what was going on,” she said. “The majority… were really those where there was no viable owner… or it became a squatter’s property. [Most] worked out into settlement [if the owner was involved] with an agreement to certain conditions for better management of the property.”
Part of the problem many people have with civil forfeiture is the incentive aspect. The DA’s office itself gets the proceeds of the assets it obtains.
“The goal was never to see how much money we could rake in,” Grossman said. “It was never a numbers game. We want people to be responsible owners and/or managers of their property.”
Her ideas for the future on that are more of what Abraham did. “During Lynne Abraham’s time [in office], we’d donate a forfeited house for a dollar to a community group,” she said. “We donated a house on Allegheny Ave. that opened up as a residential home for women who were recovering from drug addiction with their children, another was donated to a high school who had students rehab it and converted into a computer lab.” Grossman also sees potential to donate solar lights to areas experiencing open-air drug dealing.
In terms of balancing out the needs of residents in relatively safer neighborhoods with those in crisis, Grossman wants to build on community connections. “I would like to expand the public nuisance task force and have a very, very strong community engagement group and support staff that would be connected to that neighborhood, say, Northern Liberties,” she said. “Then we can inform the community about what is happening and focus on preventative measures… I don’t want to be a Rudy Giuliani where we’re arresting everybody for low-level crimes.”
For fair elections, Grossman wants to “focus on data, where problems were before, and to be [properly] staffed, because once [the ADAs] get out there [the problem is] gone, so you need to have people close by,” she said. “And then be really aggressively investigating it.” Grossman added that she’d even convene a grand jury if necessary.
Can a Republican win in the city? Grossman says it’s time. “I don’t see Democratic public officials really caring about constituents and that’s why I switched,” she said. “It’s a heavy lift to be a Republican in the city… But when you have one-party control, it leads to complacency and corruption. There’s been, what, a dozen democratic judges, at least half a dozen state reps, our U.S. Congressman, in fact my law school classmate Kathleen Kane, who was the AG, obviously not in Philadelphia and the fact that Democratic corruption landed in the DA’s office, in its almost 107-year-old history is heartbreaking to me. Enough is enough. It’s time to restore [political] balance.”
Grossman is running unopposed in the Republican Primary. She looks to take on who ever wins the Democratic Primary in November.