Throughout the Philadelphia neighborhoods of Overbrook and Wynnefield, seemingly on every utility pole and spare piece of public property in the PA House of Representatives’ 192nd District, you will find campaign posters for Will Mega, the man challenging 11-term State Rep. Louise Bishop in tomorrow’s primary. On the poster, underneath the headline “VOTE WILL MEGA DEMOCRAT” and the slogan “I GOT YOUR BACK,” Mega, sporting a goatee, checkered pocket square, striped tie and French cuffs, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a smiling President Obama.
In the largely African American and almost exclusively Democratic district, the President’s endorsement means a lot, especially for a candidate whose previous life includes reality television and the New Black Panther Party, as does Mega’s. Except Mega hasn’t received an endorsement from Obama, the Democratic Party, or anyone else who matters.
“It’s funny that you would see it that way,” says Mega. (Presumably he figured out that Fiorillo is a honkey name.) “That might be one way of looking at it, but in all actuality, I’m the one endorsing the President. Many in the black community were looking for Messianic leadership, and he has lost some black people support, because they thought there was going to be change overnight. Nowhere do we say on that sign that we have the endorsement of our President. That poster is me endorsing him.”
Unclear on whether Mega is delusional, demagogic or just a bad liar? Same here.
His name—or one of his names, since Mega was born in Philadelphia as William Collins and has, at times, gone by Hiram Ashantee—may seem familiar. Mega has twice run unsuccessfully for local political office. In 2003, he campaigned for a City Council-at-Large seat on a platform of jobs, safe schools, and, yes, affordable car insurance. (Doesn’t he know to just call 1-800-SAFE-AUTO? The call is free!) Then in 2010, Mega made his first try at Bishop’s seat. Bishop, a Baptist minister, gospel radio show host, and an old friend of Aretha Franklin, won handily, but it was hardly a shutout, with Mega earning more than a quarter of the vote.
Perhaps, though, you recognize Mega’s name from the first season of Big Brother, from back in the old days when every show on the tube wasn’t of the reality genre. In 2000, Mega (seen in the clip below) was a cantankerous contestant, and was unpopular with his fellow players. He was the first voted off.
Years before joining the Big Brother cast, Mega had joined another one: the New Black Panther Party, the same one accused of voter intimidation in Philadelphia in 2008. Mega was not just a member of the NBPP, which he left more than a decade ago. He was also the group’s national field marshall under the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Mega’s onetime mentor, who called Jews “bloodsuckers” and the Pope a “no-good cracker” and was one of those Holocaust deniers. Muhammad got himself kicked out of the Nation of Islam by Louis Farrakhan for being too extreme, which I’m pretty sure is an almost impossible task to accomplish.
Of course, Mega is not Muhammad, and he’s gone to great lengths to distance himself from the movement. “I don’t believe that white people are the devil,” explains Mega of his decision to leave the Panthers. “And I don’t believe that they are inherently made to do evil to black people. I believe that black people can empower one another without being derogatory.”
That sounds reasonable enough. What does not sound reasonable, however, is Mega’s explanation for the posters, which are, at the very least, misleading if not downright fraudulent.
A representative from the Democratic National Committee said they were “certainly in bad taste.” Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics executive director Shane Creamer found them “questionable.” Mega’s opponent, incumbent Louise Bishop, declared them “dishonest,” and acknowledged that “some people may be impressed” by the doctored photo of Mega and Obama, pointing out that there are a lot of older, less tech-savvy constituents in the district who may not know from Photoshop. And the Federal Election Commission? Well, they said that they cannot comment on specific cases. Figures.
The posters may be all of those things, but what the posters are not is illegal. At least, they don’t violate any state law, according to Ronald G. Ruman, Pennsylvania Department of State press secretary. “If a person or group believes an ad is spreading lies or misrepresenting them to some effect,” explains Rumen, “they can ask Common Pleas Court for an injunction to stop the ad from running, and can file a civil suit.”
But Bishop is not pursuing any legal recourse. “My campaign is so advanced over his,” she says, “that I don’t feel like I want to waste the time on his posters.”
I wonder if former Pennsylvania State Rep. Harold James thought the same thing around this time in 2008. Incumbent James, who had served in the state legislature since 1989, was defeated in the 2008 primary by (current City Councilman) Kenyatta Johnson. The poster for Johnson’s campaign was a Photoshopped image of his face next to a then hugely popular Barack Obama, hardly a coincidence since Johnson’s campaign manager was, yep, Will Mega.