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Philadelphia DA Race Heats Up

October 29, 1997 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ In the City of Brotherly Love, the race for district attorney has had very little, with the candidates trading barbs over racism, police corruption and personal toughness.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham maintains a solid lead in the polls, running on her record as a hard-as-nails prosecutor who takes every opportunity to use the death penalty. Her office has sent nearly 50 killers to death row in four years, a pace behind only Los Angeles and Houston.

At campaign stops, the 56-year-old Abraham hands out homemade cookies to remind voters she’s one ``tough cookie.″

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Her main challenger, defense attorney and former homicide prosecutor Jack McMahon, has hammered Abraham for being soft on a police corruption scandal in which six officers have admitted framing suspects and 300 convictions have had to be overturned.

McMahon used that approach successfully against Abraham in a big case this year when he represented one of two men accused of raping and strangling a 26-year-old jogger. Jurors acquitted the men, saying they were convinced police had lied and conspired to coerce confessions.

The campaign was bitter from the start, with both white candidates accused of making racially charged statements.

Two days after McMahon announced his candidacy last spring, Abraham released a 1987 training tape showing the former prosecutor instructing rookies in his office on picking a jury.

He suggested prosecutors avoid black women and poor blacks from neighborhoods where distrust of police was commonplace; anyone ``smart″ who might seriously think about ``reasonable doubt″; social workers; and elementary school teachers.

The pugnacious McMahon, 45, called Abraham’s release of the tape the ``lowest of the low″ and a politically motivated move that would help murderers. He called her a ``desperate woman″ whose political moves aim to ``assist convicted murderers to get free.″

But in June, Abraham found herself apologizing for a remark she made as a judge in 1990.

An article in Philadelphia magazine reported that during a murder trial, Abraham said in a closed-door meeting: ``There’s only one group of people who have problems with blacks more than whites in this city, and that’s Puerto Ricans.″

The race accusations and police took the stage at a recent televised debate between Abraham, McMahon and Libertarian candidate Leon Williams.

Williams, a black lawyer who received little attention in the campaign, accused Abraham of favoring ``crooked cops″ and said McMahon should be disbarred over the training tape.

Williams, 49, and McMahon both accused the incumbent of failing to handle corruption aggressively.

The city’s two daily newspapers recommended another four-year term for Abraham, who won 76 percent of the vote last election.