Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro reacts to being endorsed by President Barack Obama.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro met President Barack Obama in 2006 at a rally at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, and Obama is now returning the favor.
Obama endorsed Shapiro for attorney general on March 30. That same day, Shapiro held a press conference in Center City declaring that he is ready to clean up the mess created by outgoing Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
In 2008, Shapiro was one of the first public officials to suport Obama over Hillary. He was Obama’s most visible backer in the Pennsyvlania Jewish community at a time when many were questioning Obama’s commitment to Israel.
“We need an attorney general who is going to be a fighter for all Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro told the Jewish Exponent.
Shapiro is running against Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli in the April 26 primary.
“Josh Shapiro is a true progressive with a strong record of standing up for Pennsylvania families,” Obama said in a press release. “As attorney general, he’ll fight to reform the criminal justice system to make it fairer for all and protect seniors and consumers. Josh Shapiro is a person with character and integrity and represents a new generation of progressive leadership. I’m proud to endorse Josh Shapiro for attorney general.”
Shapiro acknowledged it is uncommon for a president to endorse someone at the state level, but gladly accepted it.
“Ever since we met in Pennsylvania a decade ago, I’ve admired Barack Obama and his thoughtful, courageous determination to bring about real change and advance the cause of justice,” Shapiro said in a prepared statement. “I am deeply honored to have earned a rare endorsement from the President.”
Kane intended to seek re-election, but dropped out after she was charged with violating grand jury secrecy laws stemming from alleged leaks of grand jury investigation details to embarrass a political enemy.
Shapiro, 42, is an Abington native, a longtime member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park and an alumnus of Akiba Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.
He has long envisioned being involved in the community, but never at this high of a level. He originally wanted to fulfill his — and every other Jewish mother’s — dream of becoming a doctor, but changed his plans after his freshman year at the University of Rochester. He got involved with student government and fell in love with politics.
He led a Democratic Party resurgence in Montgomery County in 2011, as Democrats won a County Commission majority for the first time in more than 140 years.
In 2009, Shapiro was one of 32 state legislators to serve on a health care reform panel. Now, as chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, he is leading the fight against the statewide heroin epidemic.
With 2.3 million people imprisoned nationally, Shapiro stressed that the justice system needs to be reformed. He noted that Pennsylvania spends $3.8 billion annually on state and county prisons.
He explained that there should be a distinction between violent criminals and those with drug problems.
“There are people who are a threat to society and who should be locked up for a long time,” he said. “But there are also people suffering from drug addiction and mental illness who need care and compassion, not incarceration. We’ve got to understand in our society that drug addiction is a disease, not a crime.”
According to Shapiro, heroin is now the number one accidental killer of people, surpassing car accidents. It is a major problem right outside of Philadelphia, in Williamstown, N.J. — where the heroin death rate in 2014 was nearly 25 times the national average.
He stressed that he will work with law enforcement in Pennsylvania and neighboring New Jersey to combat this deadly drug.
“This is an issue gripping each and every part of Pennsylvania,” he said. “It knows no municipal boundaries, and it is affecting everyone.”
Shapiro also addressed the controversial civil forfeitures and police body cameras.
“When it comes to civil forfeiture, I support a mend it, don’t end it approach,” Shapiro said. “Civil forfeiture is an important tool for law enforcement to pursue drug dealers and other criminals. At the same time, there have been some concerning practices that should be reformed. I support greater transparency and increasing the burden that law enforcement must meet in each case.
“Body cameras are an important tool for law enforcement and the community. As Chairman of PCCD, I’m working closely with law enforcement, community leaders and lawmakers to assist in the purchase of the cameras, amend state laws to allow them to be used effectively, and address the privacy issues.”
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