How’s Your Member?
1. Michael Castle, R-DE Castle is an increasingly rare type — a moderate who seems just as happy working with Democrats as with his fellow Republicans. And in the current splintered Congress, that’s the only type who can get much done. Delaware’s only House member, he still brings home millions for the state’s military bases and law enforcement agencies, and he’s joined other Philly-area lawmakers to stave off possibly crippling cuts in Amtrak funding. One Democrat grudgingly calls him “relatively effective, because he is one of the few true moderates.”
2. Jim Saxton, R-NJ You won’t see him involved in many big issues, but Saxton has quietly built up more than two decades of seniority, which he has a way of turning into cash for local projects, including millions to preserve Long Beach Island. “Bright, understated and influential,” one Jersey delegation observer says. A senior member of the Armed Services Committee, Saxton helped central Jersey’s Fort Dix nab jobs from other military installations during last year’s Pentagon base realignment.
3. Chris Smith, R-NJ After 25 years in office, Smith’s seniority should make him one of the most powerful members of the Philly-area delegation. But he devotes a lot of his clout to trying to ban abortion, chairing the House Pro-Life Caucus, which has helped force votes to ban “partial-birth” abortions and all abortions on military bases. He’s more moderate on other issues, often supporting labor unions and siding with Democrats to push U.S. intervention in Darfur, Sudan, and to stop human trafficking around the world.
4.) Allyson Schwartz, D-PA In her first term in office, Schwartz has been impressing D.C. operatives with both her political savvy and her ability to win spots on influential committees on the budget and transportation. Thanks to her transportation seat, she brought close to $50 million in federal funding to her district while helping to write last year’s massive highway and transit bill. “Pretty good political future ahead of her,” says a Democratic aide.
5) Chaka Fattah, D-PA As the area’s only member of the House Appropriations Committee, Fattah tries to make sure Philly gets its share of federal pork. A Penn grad, he has helped set up several programs to get federal aid for urban students paying college tuition. But even one Democrat says he’s “not much of a player yet,” and after nearly 12 years in office, he doesn’t have many big legislative wins on his résumé. Some critics say the would-be mayoral candidate works harder on his own career than for his West Philadelphia district. Another Democratic operative says he’s “the smartest guy in the room … just ask him.”
6) Curt Weldon, R-PA Weldon is a major player on the military and homeland security, chairing an Armed Services subcommittee in charge of reviewing what the Army and Air Force buy. But he’s used his position on those issues to pursue some weird causes, taking on both the Bush administration and the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, contending that a secret Pentagon project knew about the al-Qaida plot to attack the U.S. in advance. Many of his claims have not stood up to investigation. Now Republicans worry that Democratic challenger Joe Sestak may beat him this fall. One Democratic operative calls him “a ticking time bomb waiting to go off” if the upcoming campaign debates stray into foreign policy.
7) Michael Fitzpatrick, R-PA Democrats are gunning for freshman Fitzpatrick this fall, hoping his vote against federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research last year — after he promised in his first campaign to keep an open mind regarding the idea — will hurt him. But a GOP aide says “leadership is paying more attention” to Fitzpatrick, and he got some national buzz in May when he introduced legislation aimed at keeping sexual predators off of MySpace.com and other social-networking sites. One Democrat concedes, “No one works harder. Would go to the opening of an envelope.”
8) Rob Andrews, D-NJ A few years ago, Andrews had the questionable distinction of introducing more bills than any other member of Congress — only to see every one of them fail to pass even at the committee level. These days, he wins a few more of his legislative battles, on foreign policy and Pentagon matters — he supported the war in Iraq — as well as on pensions and education. Still, observers say he’s “a bit of a show horse.” And he may be getting impatient waiting for his shot at another statewide race after losing out to Jim McGreevey for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1997.
9) Jim Gerlach, R-PA A Republican operative says he’s “on the lookout for how to maximize every situation to take advantage of its political value.” That may explain Gerlach’s recent move to delay penalties for senior citizens who missed deadlines to sign up for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, even though he voted for the GOP bill that set the penalties up. A GOP aide says he’s “very good at constituent service,” but that’s a basic requirement of the job. Meanwhile, Democrats say he’s “not bright” and “lazy.”
10) Bob Brady, D-PA The chair of Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, Brady sometimes seems more interested in ward-level politics back home than in the ins and outs of his day job, even after eight years in office. A clout ranking this spring by Congress.org, a research firm that serves lobbyists, put Brady at 399th out of 438 House members — below some freshmen and behind even D.C.’s delegate, who can’t vote. “The king of Philadelphia,” says one Democrat. “Wait, he’s a congressman, too?”