Needed: Better Philadelphia Republicans

Chaka Fattah should have a GOP opponent with more than $500 in the bank.

Chaka Fattah

Chaka Fattah hasn’t been convicted of anything. He hasn’t been charged with anything. And let’s not forget: He hasn’t even been officially named as a suspect by the federal prosecutors who are nonetheless clearly targeting his inner circle.

Still, there’s been quite a hubub surrounding Fattah in the days since since former aide, Gregory Naylor, pleaded guilty to campaign finance shenanigans. And the fuss makes me wish one thing: That Philadelphia had a competent Republican Party.


Yes, I’m a liberal, and yes, my temptation is to vote for the Democrat 90 percent of the time. But you know what I like even better than electing Democrats? Good governance.

And good governance rarely comes from single-party rule, whether that’s in authoritarian states like North Korea, or in cities where the GOP has basically given up, like Philadelphia for the last five or six decades. The pattern is the same: The party that does retain power might have its share of idealists and go-getters, but without competition to shake things up — forcing old blood out, bringing new blood in — more and more participants end up fat and happy to get whatever benefit they can from the system, instead of working to benefit the city has a whole.

Corruption can still happen in a two- or more-party system, don’t get me wrong: Power and money are always strong temptations to a little corner-cutting. But steady, sturdy competition often exposes corruption.

And why wouldn’t a limited-government, low-tax agenda attract voters in this town? Seems like there are a lot of Republicans-in-waiting in Philadelphia. Somebody just needs to tap into their power to make the dream come true.

Fattah, as it happens, does have a Republican opponent in November: Armond James. He reportedly has $500 in his campaign finance account, and, as of Monday night, 134 followers on Twitter. In other words: He’s not really well-positioned to take advantage of Fattah’s seeming weakness right now.

So what to do?

My colleague Jason Fagone wrote a really good piece for the magazine in 2009  explaining why the Philly GOP had become a nothing party in the city: Essentially, it settled for a lesser, but dependable, share of the spoils being doled out by the Democratic establishment. Philadelphians have been ill-served by that arrangement.

They’ve also been ill-served by a rural-based state party whose constituents seem to see Philadelphia as a bogeyman. That’s not a surprise: Republicans have been running against cities — for race- and crime- and welfare-based reasons and more — ever since Nixon. Darryl Metcalfe’s anti-Philadelphia attitudes in Harrisburg aren’t new: They’re just a fresh form of the same old ugliness.

So it’s the case that if Democrats are one-party rulers in Philadelphia, it’s happened because Republicans in the city and across the state have done everything they can to make themselves as repellent as possible to city voters. Philadelphians have basically been screwed by both parties.

The result? Barring additional developments, Chaka Fattah seems well-positioned to overwhelmingly win re-election to Congress in two months. It would be nice if a second party could give him a run for his money.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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