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Philadelphia District Attorney and 14-year incumbent Lynne Abraham faces one of her toughest campaign challenges yet in 38-year-old Seth Williams as the candidates gear up for the May 17 primaries.

The district attorney of Philadelphia is the chief law enforcement officer for the city. As DA, Abraham is responsible for the prosecution of over 70,000 criminal cases every year and oversees 300 assistant district attorneys and a support staff of 275.

According to her campaign Web site, Abraham has created numerous programs during her reign as DA, including the Public Nuisance Task Force, Youth Aid Panels, the Domestic Violence Task Force and the District Attorney's Community Advisory Board.

However, Williams, a former assistant prosecutor under Abraham, says that the office is in need of reform.

Williams is promising to bring drastic change to the DA's office by redeploying prosecutors to specific geographic zones throughout the city, allowing a single prosecution team to handle a case from start to finish.

He believes that through the implementation of his community-based prosecution -- similar to programs employed in Washington and Brooklyn, N.Y. -- he will be able to reduce the percentage of Philadelphia's felony charges that are thrown out of court before trial.

Laurie Robinson, director of the Master's Program in the Penn Criminology Department said that while Philadelphia's current method of prosecution is more traditional, "community-based prosecution is becoming more of a trend around the country."

Robinson added, "There have been a number of jurisdictions that have made strides against crime using a variety of different problem-solving approaches ... including community-based prosecution."

While Abraham has a large advantage in name recognition and fundraising as the incumbent, Williams has earned the endorsement of the city's 6,000-member police union.

There has traditionally been a small voter turnout for the DA race, especially in an off-year, and there has not been any public polling yet.

No one from Abraham's campaign was available for comment.

"I think Philadelphia is generally regarded as having a good DA's office, and Abraham is regarded as being a very tough DA," Robinson said.

And while it should be tough for Williams to unseat such a strongly entrenched opponent, Harriet Lessy, a spokeswoman for his campaign, said that Williams should win because "he's young, he's had a lot of experience with 10.5 years in that office and he knows what should and could be fixed to improve the system. ... The system will function much, much better."

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