Dwight Evans Wins, Ends Chaka Fattah’s Run in the 2nd
It’s the end of an era.
Democratic voters kicked out indicted Congressman Chaka Fattah in today’s primary election, and chose state Rep. Dwight Evans as their nominee instead. Fattah conceded defeat at around 10 p.m.
“All the numbers are not in at this moment, but it appears that we will not have the numbers add up in a way that would return me to the Congress,” Fattah said at his Election Night headquarters in the Center City hall of District Council 1199C of the National Hospital and Health Care Workers union. “It has been an honor to represent our city and parts of our suburbs in Congress.”
Evans was gracious in victory; he thanked Fattah “for serving this district for two decades. Thank you, Chaka.”
Evans also offered immediate thanks to two people: Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who he said were instrumental to his victory. He, of course, thanked his longtime ally Marian Tasco, a former City Councilwoman, as well. “What would I do without Marian Tasco?”
“I have won some races and I have lost a few races,” he said to big laughs to the crowd assembled at Temptations in Northwest. Evans had been defeated when he ran for mayor in 1999 and 2007, and when he campaigned for governor in 1994. In his victory speech Tuesday, Evans painted himself as someone who can work across the aisle and bring innovative ideas to Washington. “It’s clear to me that government should work for the people. This is not about politicians. This is about people. In this era of partisanship, we need bipartisanship.”
When asked after his speech if he thought Fattah’s indictment helped him win, Evans said he didn’t talk about the issue in the race. He also insisted that he would have run for Congress even if Fattah had not been charged with corruption.
Fattah was reflective in defeat. He mentioned many of the programs he’d championed in Congress over the last 22 years, including GEAR UP and CORE Philly. “This work has helped millions of Americans,” Fattah said to a crowd of about 25. “And to some degree the press will be recounting this, finally. So Philadelphians can learn about the great work that we’ve done. This has been absent in some large measure by the coverage of the local media.
“But this is not a moment to talk about the past. I have won more than 30 elections. And even though I may not win this evening, I think that I still count myself in the winners’ circle,” he said, referring to his long run in Congress. “We have had the opportunity to do what few will ever have the opportunity to do, which is to stand and provide representation for people who have every reason to expect the full benefits of citizenship in our country.”
“Now as we see the numbers settling, it’s clear that we’ve won a lot of neighborhoods in our city. It’s also clear that the majority will have its way and they will decide that someone else should take on the responsibility. We wish them well in that endeavor.”
Evans and Tasco are leaders of the Northwest Coalition, an alliance of African-American politicians. The fact that Evans won the primary election is significant because it solidifies the coalition’s position as one of the most powerful political factions in Philadelphia. The group also counts Councilman Derek Green and Councilwoman Cherelle Parker on its team. Today, the coalition’s official Election Day lunch spot, Relish, drew bigger crowds than Famous 4th Street Deli, the power crowd’s traditional electoral lunch hangout.
The only dark cloud on the day for the Northwest Coalition was Chris Raab’s defeat of Tonyelle Cook-Artis in the 200th District state House race. “Obviously, I’m disappointed that she did not win,” said Evans of Cook-Artis’ loss.
Evans, Tasco and other members of the Northwest Coalition endorsed Kenney early in last year’s mayoral race, and have been credited with helping to elect him as much as powerful union leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty did. Evans also backed Wolf at the beginning of the 2014 gubernatorial primary, which was seen as majorly helping Wolf. That beefed up Evans’ clout after he suffered a spell of being viewed as politically irrelevant. When Evans announced that he was running in the 2nd Congressional District race, Kenney and Wolf returned the favor and quickly endorsed him.
This election represents the completion of a comeback for Evans. He chaired the state House’s powerful appropriations committee for 19 years, but was kicked out of the post by his colleagues in 2010.
Officially, Evans will face Republican James Jones in the general election. But Evans’ victory in that race is all but guaranteed. The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District, which Fattah represents, the third-most Democratic in the country.
This is also a momentous day in Philadelphia politics because it marks the end of Fattah’s decades-long political career. Now he faces a federal corruption trial, with jury selection starting May 2nd and opening statements set for May 16th. He has been charged by the federal government with racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and bank fraud.
Fattah has been in Congress since defeating incumbent Rep. Lucien Blackwell in 1994. The Inquirer called Fattah, then 37, a “young turk who has made a career of defying the party leadership” at the time. He went on to became part of that establishment. He had not been challenged in a primary until this year, and cruised to re-election every November against overmatched Republican challengers.
Fattah attempted to parlay his long history in the seat into a mayoral campaign in 2007. He led early polls. But Fattah finished fourth in a crowded field, behind Michael Nutter, Tom Knox and Bob Brady. (He beat Evans in 2007.)
Even with the the entrance of Tom Knox into the race triggering the “millionaire’s exemption” to campaign finance rules, contributions were limited to $5,800 for individuals and $23,000 for PACs. Fattah struggled to raise money compared to Nutter, who amassed $1.2 million in the year before the primary. According to federal prosecutors, who announced the indictment of Fattah last summer, the Congressman got an illegal $1 million loan for his mayoral campaign but hid it as a loan to a consultant. He is accused of arranging for a nonprofit to pay $600,000 of that loan, disguising it with fake contracts and false accounting entries, and making bogus campaign disclosure statements.
That suddenly gave Fattah competition in the primary for the first time as an incumbent. Gordon, a township commissioner in Lower Merion for a decade, tried to use his base of suburban voters. Muroff campaigned heavily on the issue of gun control. But Evans, a state representative since 1981, was the most formidable challenger from the start. Evans touted his years of service in the state House, as well as his success in bringing lumps of money from the legislature to the city, and voters bought it.