Bill McSwain casts himself as ‘law and order’ candidate in GOP governor race

Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain speaks Tuesday, Feb. 15, during a campaign event in Mayfair.
Jack Tomczuk

Bill McSwain had a message for supporters and media gathered on a Northeast Philadelphia sidewalk in frigid temperatures Tuesday morning.

He will do anything in his power to suppress District Attorney Larry Krasner’s criminal justice reform efforts — and even attempt to remove the progressive from office — if elected governor.

“Larry Krasner’s days as district attorney will be numbered,” said McSwain. The comment was greeted with cheers.

McSwain, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania during the Trump administration, is attempting to brand himself as the ‘law and order’ candidate in the GOP gubernatorial race, using Krasner as a punching bag.

The strategy did not work for attorney Charles Peruto Jr., Krasner’s opponent in the 2021 general election, or his Democratic primary challenger, longtime prosecutor Carlos Vega, who attended McSwain’s campaign event Tuesday. Krasner was comfortably reelected to a second four-year term.

But McSwain, who frequently sparred with the DA as a federal prosecutor, is hoping the tactic will prove fruitful in a crowded Republican field that includes former Congressman Lou Barletta, state Sen. Doug Mastriano and Pittsburgh lawyer Jason Richey.

He’s not the only GOP candidate running for statewide office using crime in Philadelphia as a campaign issue.

Jeff Bartos, a Montgomery County real estate developer and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful, issued a response Tuesday to an Inquirer article about increases in police response times and staffing shortages.

“This is what happens when leaders who support defunding the police and letting criminals go free are in charge,” Bartos said in a statement that also attacked Krasner.

Supporters of former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain hold a ‘Thin Blue Line’ flag Tuesday, Feb. 15, at a campaign event in Mayfair.Jack Tomczuk

What remains unclear is how the message will resonate in Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 8-to-1, and lead to votes. Only registered party members will be allowed to cast ballots in the May 17 primary election.

As Reuters reported earlier this month, Pennsylvania’s Republican Party decided not to endorse in either race, possibly because former President Donald Trump has not publicly backed any candidate still in the running.

Barletta and Mastriano have been the early favorites in the GOP governor’s race, according to the few preliminary polls that have been released.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, of Abington, is widely expected to be the nominee.

Shapiro and his lieutenant governor running mate, state Rep. Austin Davis, are scheduled to meet with influential union leader Ryan Boyer on Wednesday in North Philadelphia and tour the Laborers District Council’s new training center.

Outside Avenue Chiropractic, the Mayfair brick storefront where McSwain held his event, a man in a “Let’s Go Brandon” hoodie held a “Back the Blue” blanket and supporters displayed a “Thin Blue Line” flag.

Anne Marie Muldoon, the owner of the practice, said she knows the mother of 60-year-old George Briscella, who was fatally shot during a carjacking Feb. 6 in Rhawnhurst.

“We have cameras. We have security systems,” Muldoon said. “But most of all, we walk each other to our cars at nighttime and we dive into them to get the hell out of here, and we have shortened our hours.”

She said many of her patients have fled the city, adding: “How long can we keep running? If you think it’s not going to reach there in a few years, you’re wrong.”

Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain is running as a Republican for Pennsylvania governor.Jack Tomczuk

McSwain, a former U.S. Marine who lives in West Chester, told the crowd that he would push for an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would make Philadelphia’s DA appointed by the governor, instead of being an elected office.

Such a change would be years away, requiring a bill passed in both houses of the legislature in two consecutive sessions and a ballot referendum.

Krasner, in a statement, responded by grouping McSwain with the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“It is stunning that this candidate, who has done nothing to improve the lives of Philadelphians, thinks that he is entitled to take away their vote and pick representatives for them,” Krasner said. “That’s called fascism.”

As part of his “law and order” platform, McSwain vowed to seek the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing a police officer.

“If you take the life of a law enforcement officer on my watch, you will die for it,” he said. “I will make it my mission in life to ensure this.”

He also said he would pursue changes to the bail system to keep all suspects charged with violent felonies detained without bail prior to trial, and he promised to send in state police and National Guard troops to restore order.