Insider: Sugar Daddy Wanted

McCalla: Chaka Fattah's indictment means Curtis Jones Jr., Cindy Bass and Blondell Reynolds Brown need to make powerful new friends.


From left to right, Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Curtis Jones Jr. and Cindy Bass. | All photos courtesy of Philadelphia City Council.

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

My father used to tell the story of an elephant running furiously through the jungle. A hunter shoots it in the brain. By the sheer velocity of its rampage, it can still do fearsome things before it finally hits the ground — dead. Out of a mixture of fear and respect, onlookers will approach the pachyderm’s corpse gingerly, in the off chance it might still evidence some dangerous, residing strength. Such is usually the case when a powerful politician is the subject of a multiple count, federal indictment.

U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah has been indicted by a federal grand jury on an impressive array of counts after an almost eight-year Justice Department investigation that virtually everybody knew was underway. Over the course of the probe there would be rumors, leaks and other indictments that suggested the Feds’ grip was tightening on the man born as Arthur Wesley Davenport.

Uncommonly ambitious, Fattah became the youngest member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, undoubtedly benefiting greatly from his new name. His mother, Sister Falaka Fattah, had become renowned for her cutting-edge leadership in Philly’s Black empowerment movement, and for founding the groundbreaking House of Umoja for homeless boys and gang members.

Like many powerful politicians, Chaka Fattah created an organization that would multiply his power, by fielding and funding candidates who would be loyal to him. Currently, at least three members of City Council owe a huge debt of gratitude to Fattah, namely Curtis Jones Jr., Cindy Bass and the ethically challenged Blondell Reynolds-Brown

Now, though, Fattah has become a very bad investment for big donors. Bass, Jones and Reynolds-Brown are suddenly in need of a new Sugar Daddy. Each will need help paying for literature, mailings, field operatives, poll workers and the many ward leaders with outstretched palms. As a citywide candidate, at-large Councilman Reynolds-Brown is particularly vulnerable. She needs a powerful sponsor who can reward her loyalists and punish defectors. On her own, Reynolds-Brown is not feared.

Fortunately for the orphaned trio, there are three possible brokers they can turn to, in much the way Republican presidential candidates are supplicating themselves before the Koch Brothers.

The Big Kahuna locally, of course, is proven powerhouse John Dougherty. He’s got mega-bucks and nobody screws his candidates. A second prospect is the politically rejuvenated State Rep. Dwight Evans. His clout with the new governor and recent appointment to the SEPTA board renews him as an estimable power with much improved fundraising prospects. Finally, there is State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. While Williams ran a ridiculously poor mayoral campaign, the fact that he laid his hands on roughly $6 million for television ads suggests an uncommon access to donors, however few in number.

Perhaps, the most effective recent reach for a political life preserver was that of Jim Kenney. As a former Chief of Staff to the once powerful Vince Fumo, Kenney always had a formidable sponsor who could raise money and rattle the cages of disobedient ward leaders. Fumo was sidelined by federal prison and Kenney is now in the mutually tender embrace of Fumo’s archenemy, Dougherty.

When Congressman Bill Gray suddenly announced his immediate resignation, he left the late Councilwoman Augusta Clark and District Councilwoman Marian Tasco with neither warning nor reward. Undoubtedly, Clark and Tasco would freely admit the pivotal role the now-deceased politician played in funding and brokering their success. Both retired on their own terms, proving that, for some at least, there is LASD – Life After Sugar Daddy.

Jay McCalla has served as a city deputy managing director, a director for the Redevelopment Authority and as chief of staff to Councilman Rick Mariano. He is now a policy consultant who provided pro bono advice to mayoral candidate Anthony H. Williams, amongst other candidates this election cycle.