Insider: Who Really Could Replace Chaka Fattah in Congress?

Rashed: The guy with the best shot is the one few are talking about. Dwight Evans.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

One of the outcomes of having a mostly white press corps covering a mostly black city with black politicians is that you often get the same story told from the same perspective. You can’t fault folks for not knowing what they don’t know. Usually what’s missing is a sensitivity to understanding how black folks think and what they want. Right below the seemingly friendly “We’re All Democrats” surface, there are cliques and rivalries and sometimes feuds that determine just about everything that happens in politics in this town.

Here’s my insider take on the list of possible replacement candidates for Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District. With consideration to race, fundraising ability and possible institutional support. And with all due respect to Crowdpac, let’s keep it real, for crying out loud, Philly Jesus is on this list. I’m only going to include realistic candidates.

It is important to note the rules, because they frame the options:

Rule/Option 1) Fattah resigns before the primary. After that, Gov. Wolf has 10 days to set a special election, and the election must occur within the next 60 days. There are rules here. Federal rules. And this is a special election, which means the Republican and Democrat party bosses determine a nominee to run against each other (or a third party candidate, if one emerges and can qualify for the ballot). The winner is then on the ballot as an incumbent next spring. It is important to note the intricacies of this process. The ward leader with the most divisions in the 2nd congressional district is the district’s convener. He/she is the chair for deciding who the nominee is. In the 2nd, the 50th Ward leader has the most divisions. The 50th Ward leader is Marian Tasco. Let that sink in for a minute…

Rule Option/2 ) Fattah doesn’t step down. The general consensus is that there won’t be a trial for at least a year. There’s a primary next spring featuring a badly damaged incumbent, and everyone is invited. This has the potential to be a free-for-all, but I don’t think so. You need time to plan a solid campaign and with each passing day, the uncertainty freezes potential candidates.

It will probably come down to which potential candidate has the flexibility to wait the longest without repercussions. There’s an advantage to being able to adapt to a campaign that allows for either option #1 or option #2. That doesn’t leave a lot of available candidates.

Darrell Clarke – High name recognition, check. African American, check. Party likability, check. Fundraising ability, check, check, check. But he already has the best job in Philly politics. And it’s a job for life. Who would want to give that up for a very uncertain process? Odds To Run: 20/1.

Seth Williams – Sometimes its the little things that determine a candidacy. For Seth, there’s a lot of hurdles here just to get to the start line. Is it going to be a standard primary next spring? If so, the campaign would have to start now and the resign to run clause in the city charter means no job, no paycheck until January 2017 if you win. Not a lot of people can manage that financially. I would think he’s got the best inside track to be the next AG if Kathleen Kane continues to falter. There are no sure things in politics, but that seems a lot more sure than a congressional run. Odds To Run: 20/1.

Vincent Hughes, Cindy Bass, Curtis Jones et-al. All part of the Fattah wing, lifelong friends and colleagues. All great candidates. Can’t possibly run against him. End of story. Odds To Run: n/a.

Michael Nutter – Fundraising ability, yup. Name recognition yup. Available, yeah. Union support, nah. Unfortunately, the 2nd is 61% African American and Mayor Nutter has a black people problem. I’m sorry Mr. Mayor but with a Black Philadelphia approval rating of 30%, you do. Combine that with “Nutter fatigue” and I don’t see this happening. After a lifetime of public service it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go to D.C. to be on the backbench of the minority party. Odds To Run: 20/1.

Brian Sims – Great looking guy, popular with voters, great policy wonk, rising stock in PA politics, staunch advocate for equality and civil rights. But with the 2nd district being mostly black, I’m not sure how a downtown white guy can win the majority of votes. Fattah is the only black member of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Replacing him with a non-black politician is not likely to pass muster. Yes, the city just chose a white guy as the Democratic mayoral nominee, but that’s the exception and was created by unique circumstances. You can’t build long term strategic planning based on exceptions when there’s no shortage of qualified black candidates who are available. Odds To Run: 15/1.

Doug Oliver – Excellent candidate [editor’s note: the author was Oliver’s mayoral campaign manager]. He’s young but experienced, smart and works hard. He would be an independent-minded candidate which comes with its drawbacks, mostly financial limitations, but a fresh start and face for this seat could be just want the 2nd needs. But as Ed Rendell often says – “Circumstances dictate outcomes” and as exciting as another Oliver campaign would be, especially for me, this particular race at this time isn’t quite there. But not because of him, but because of the playing field not being tilted in his favor. Odds To Run: 15/1.

Dwight Evans – So far the least talked about candidate, but in my opinion, if he wants it, the clearest path to be the 2nd’s next congressman. Career legislative chops, yes. Institutional support? Yes. Current hot streak? Yes. Free of the Fattah wing? Yes. Northwest connection? Child please. Evans would not have to quit his job and would be able to quickly put together a campaign. He would have significant ground resources in the Northwest to have a formidable election day presence. And more importantly Evans would have the support of the mayor (presuming it’s a Mayor Kenney) and of Governor Wolf. On the street, that’s what you call muscle. That kind of flex is formidable. I don’t see another candidate on this list being able to check off all of those boxes. Odds To Run: Even.

Mustafa Rashed is the President & CEO of Bellevue Strategies, a government relations, advocacy and consulting firm. He is Chairman of Friends of Doug Oliver, PAC, and he was the campaign manager of Oliver’s recent mayoral run.