If Fattah Goes Down, Who Would Voters Replace Him With?
It finally happened: Philadelphia Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was indicted on corruption charges Wednesday.
Already, political insiders are wondering if the congressman will resign in the coming months or simply choose not to run for reelection in 2016. If either scenario unfolds, who would replace him? And how would that work?
The question has been bubbling up ever since two members of Fattah’s inner circle pleaded guilty last year. You can expect more names than ever to be bandied about now.
Some of the bigger ones include Mayor Michael Nutter, City Council President Darrell Clarke, District Attorney Seth Williams, Councilman Curtis Jones, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, state Sen. Anthony Williams, state Sen. Daylin Leach, state Rep. Brian Sims, School Reform Commission member Bill Green, former mayoral candidate Doug Oliver, ward leader Daniel Muroff and real estate analyst Dan Kessler. That’s not even a full list. Check out some other possibilities here.
Watching some of these candidates confront each other in an open election would be a sight to see, but there’s no guarantee that’s what would happen. Indeed, there are five distinct scenarios that could unfold here. Let’s run them down.
Possibility #1: Fattah Doesn’t Resign Before April and Is Probably Reelected
A lot of smart people think there is a good possibility that Fattah won’t resign unless he is found guilty of a crime. They say he is hard-headed and has a big ego and will fight the corruption charges until the very end. In fact, some believe that Fattah is so stubborn that he will run for reelection next year with the indictment hanging over his head.
Believe it or not, he’d probably have a good shot at holding onto his seat if he did. Fattah is a 2o-year incumbent who sailed to victory last November with nearly 88 percent of the vote, despite the fact that it was a wide-open secret that he was being investigated by the feds at the time.
Plus, some politicians who are rumored to be interested in Fattah’s seat would likely only go for it if he wasn’t running. At the very least, that list includes Bass, Hughes and Jones, who are Fattah’s longtime allies. Other potential formidable challengers such as Seth Williams or Clarke might decide not to run because by law they would have to first resign from elected office.
Possibility #2: Fattah Doesn’t Seek Reelection Next April and There’s a Wide-Open Primary
If Fattah simply chose not to run for reelection next April, it could lead to a hell of a primary race (and, because this is deep-blue Philadelphia, the real race would be the Democratic primary, not the general election in the fall).
Imagine longtime foes Nutter and Clarke going head-to-head, or former pals/now enemies Hughes and Tony Williams brawling. It’s hard to say who, exactly, would have the best shot of winning in such a potentially wide field. But keep in mind that the 2nd Congressional District is low-income and largely African-American, which would make it challenging for whites such as Green, Leach or Sims to succeed. This is also the scenario in which Nutter probably has the best shot.
(Side note: Green, whose grandfather served in Congress, recently switched his party registration from Democratic to Independent. However, he could always change it back to Democratic in order to run in the April primary. Or he could make a go for it in the November general election as an Indy.)
Possibility #3: Fattah Resigns and There’s a Special Election Before April
If Fattah quit before the April election, here’s what would happen: Gov. Tom Wolf would have 10 days after Fattah vacated his seat to set a date for a special election. Then the state’s Democratic and Republican parties would pick their nominees for the race, with recommendations for candidates being provided by the local political parties in Philadelphia, Lower Merion and Narberth, according to election attorney Adam Bonin (the 2nd Congressional District, though mostly in Philadelphia, also includes parts of Montgomery County).
Here’s what that actually means: Philadelphia’s Democratic ward leaders and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who chairs the Democratic City Committee, would almost definitely pick the city’s next Congressperson. The 2nd District is heavily Democratic, and Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party will likely allow Brady to have a major say in the nomination process. Clarke and Seth Williams would probably fare well in this scenario. Nutter not so much. Bass, Hughes and Jones also might not do great, seeing as how the clout of the Fattah political family is diminishing by the second.
As undemocratic as all of this is, there’s a silver lining: There would still be a primary race in April, in which lots of candidates could run against the sitting Congressperson. At that point, they would only be an incumbent for a few months, so it could be a real race.
Possibility #4: Fattah Resigns Eventually and Then There’s a Special Election at Some Point
It seems like the feds have a pretty strong case against Fattah, and it seems like Fattah isn’t the type of guy who will resign from office unless he’s convicted. So this, sadly, is probably the most likely scenario of the five: A special election will be held at some point after April (since there won’t be enough time for a criminal trial to take place before then). Brady et al. will select the eventual winner. If that person is elected with a year or so to go until the next election cycle, they very well could go on to hold the seat for years to come.
Possibility #5: Fattah Beats the Rap
Let’s say Fattah doesn’t resign, and over time, maybe the case falls apart, or it goes to trial and a jury just can’t be convinced that Fattah did wrong. In that event, Fattah is probably just about as secure in his seat as he’s been all along.