U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah speaks outside of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on August 18, 2015.
The crowd of several hundred was waiting, eagerly, for Bill Clinton to speak at a Mt. Airy playground. Later in the day, the Clinton appearance would make national news when he argued with a protester for several minutes. But now, the PA system was cycling through multiple recent pop songs. A bunch of the people in the crowd were dancing, tapping their feet or just nodding their heads to the music.
And, there, bopping along to the beat in the front row, was Chaka Fattah. He was not on stage, as he might have been if this event were held, say, a year ago. (Mayor Jim Kenney, City Councilwoman Marian Tasco and former Gov. Ed Rendell spoke before Clinton did at the event.) No, Fattah arrived early, got a good position to stand up front and stood there the whole time.
Some politicians, when facing trouble, resist the public eye. Some resign. But Fattah has chosen to fight.
Last year, Fattah was indicted on a stunning array of corruption charges: Federal prosecutors accused him of using charitable donations and taxpayer dollars to pay off an illegal $1 million loan to his failed mayoral campaign in 2007. Fattah is combating the charges. And despite the fact that an indictment is hanging over his head, Fattah has in recent months appeared at numerous public events, even getting a handshake from Barack Obama at the State of the Union. He’s frequently made himself available to the media, and, most boldly, chosen to run for a 12th term in Congress. He is confident that he will win the election, and the case. “In any objective look at the race, I think that there would be consideration that the outcome of our winning is not as it’s been postured so far in the media,” he told Philadelphia magazine in an interview last week.
The truth, though, is that his reelection is far from guaranteed. Fattah has three opponents, one of which is particularly formidable, and his campaign is all but broke. Jury selection for his trial starts May 2nd, six days after the primary election, which has drained money and energy from his campaign. If Fattah loses in Tuesday’s primary election, it would mark the end of an era. Fattah has been an elected official in Philadelphia for more than three decades. He has also built a powerful political machine, which has helped elect everyone from Councilwoman Cindy Bass to Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown to state Sen. Vincent Hughes. That political organization would at the very least lose clout — and could possibly die altogether — if its boss were ousted. Even if Fattah ekes out a victory this week, he’ll have to face a jury just a few weeks later. Several members of his inner circle have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the federal government.
This may be Fattah’s last stand.
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