Deb Ryan kicks off campaign to become county's next District Attorney
● By Richard Gaw
Before more than 150 elected officials, law enforcement personnel, local dignitaries and friends gathered at Barnaby's in West Chester on Feb. 7, former Chester County Deputy District Attorney Deb Ryan officially launched her campaign to become the county's next District Attorney.
Ryan will run on the Democratic ballot in this May's primary. If she wins, she will likely challenge Republican and current District Attorney Tom Hogan, who has been in office since 2011, in November.
When her colleagues in law enforcement first encouraged her to campaign for District Attorney, Ryan said she rejected the idea, but after experiencing a family tragedy, she told the audience that she began to reevaluate her life, and began to determine how she could best leave her mark on Chester County.
“I thought, 'What can I do better?'” Ryan said.
The inspiration to declare her candidacy, she said, was inspired by her grandparents, who were both survivors of the Holocaust. At a young age, she said, “I was taught the critical importance of advocacy and speaking up for those who can not speak up for themselves.
“They came to this country with nothing,” she said. “They had no family, had no money, and they didn't speak the language, but they came here and were embraced by total strangers, and these people became their family, and by extension, they became mine. So from the time I was old enough to understand, I knew that it was my responsibility to advocate for the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalized. They guided me by their principles.”
If one half of Ryan's candidacy is being steered by the influence of her grandparents, then the other half is being guided by her 15 years' experience as a criminal prosecutor. Currently the county coordinator for the Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative at the Crime Victims' Center of Chester County, Inc., Ryan began her career as an assistant district attorney at the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, and then began as a prosecutor at the Chester County District Attorney's office in 2006, where she was then promoted to Deputy District Attorney, where she headed the Child Abuse Unit and Children's Advocacy Center in 2013. She was awarded the Chester County Prosecutor of the Year in 2014.
Proclaiming that prevention and education is the county's first line of defense to stemming the tide of crime, Ryan said that she will prosecute criminals and work to reduce the recidivism rate by treating the underlying, root causes that lead to criminal behavior.
She told the audience that she would be an advocate for victims and survivors and seek justice on their behalf, by promoting positive, respectful, and professional relationships with victims and survivors; valuing victims' input; and providing them with additional resources.
“Victims will always come first,” Ryan said. “It means treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve. It means listening to them and valuing their input. It means working with the Crime Victims' Center to get them the help they need.”
Becoming the county's next district attorney, Ryan aid, will involve confronting – and attempting to clean up – a county-wide increase in homicides, a rising opioid crisis, and an ever-more dangerous spike in gun violence – as well as what she called a 760 percent rise in child abuse cases over the past eight years, “with virtually no assistance from the current district attorney to help children, and that's unacceptable,” she said.
Carolyn Comitta, state representative for the 156th district and former Mayor of West Chester, called Ryan “the right person at the right time for Chester County.”
“[Deb] has spent 15 years working on some of the most infamous horrific cases and standing up to protect people, in order to promote safe and healthy communities for our children,” Comitta said. “That is what she is going to do as our DA. She will use her talent, her skills, her heart, her head and all of her experience in order to make Chester County a safe and healthy community for children, our families, our businesses.”
Joseph Carroll, who served as the county's District Attorney from 2002-2011, recalled that when Ryan worked for him. She pursued her job with a passion, “and she did so to make our world a little better,” at a time in the DA's office when the well-being of victims was one of the highest priorities of the office, “and caring for them was more important than press conferences,” Carroll said.
“We remember when the district attorney's office and all of the law enforcement officers in Chester County had a real partnership, with each of us understanding their role, and respecting the role of the other, without any concern of who got credit for pursuing our goals for a safe community and justice.
“I am tired of seeing the DA's office used for political purposes,” Carroll added. “What's the cure for it? We need someone who cares more about serving the people of Chester County than how she looks in the newspaper. We need someone who can work effectively with every police department in the county, providing the support and council they need.
“We need somebody who understands that everything a district attorney says or does can have immense, life-changing impact on those who are affected, and who understands that while a district attorney can save lives, one ill-advised comment can hurt them, as well. We need somebody who will make every decision fairly, intelligently, based solely on the evidence and without any concern about personal or political consequences.”
The crowd was riveted by the words of Hawa Koroma, a former victim who Ryan helped receive justice, who shared her story of working with Ryan.
“She saved my life,” Koroma said of Ryan. “She assured me that everything would be okay and that I was not alone. For this reason, I believe she will represent and empower her citizens.”
If she is elected as the chief law enforcement officer for Chester County, Ryan said that she will collaborate with over 50 law enforcement agencies including the Chester County Detectives, municipal police departments, the Pennsylvania State Police and federal agencies.
In her career, she said, “I have seen some of the worst and the best in humanity, and some of the best in humanity I have come across have been in the form of law enforcement. These men and women I have worked with will really inspire you, and you should know that they protect you and your family every day, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.”
In her closing remarks, Ryan told the audience that the District Attorney's Office must be filled with integrity and transparency, where everyone is treated equally.
“I know that we can work together to make a change, and I know that Chester County is ready for a change,” she said.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.