Pulse: Power: Chaka’s Renee Problem

If her husband runs for mayor, what does that mean for Renee Chenault-Fattah?

During Congressman Chaka Fattah’s year-long public dalliance with a mayoral candidacy, political insiders have mused about where his wife, NBC 10 anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah, fits in. His new ambitions, after all, have unpacked a new set of concerns for one of Philadelphia’s top power couples. Can an anchor cover the news when her husband is running for—or serving as—mayor? If so, will she be able to fulfill any of the typical duties of a candidate’s wife? And if not, what happens when a household’s leading breadwinner has to sacrifice her paycheck on the altar of journalistic ethics?

Such power-couple war-gaming hasn’t been a matter for family meetings yet, according to the congressman. “That’s a rumor that’s been circulating for a couple of months now by politicos who don’t want me to run for mayor,” says Fattah. And NBC 10 won’t say what it intends to do if such a spousal conflict of interest presents itself. “That’s a personal issue and a personnel issue,” says NBC 10 publicist Eva Blackwell.

But the would-be candidate downplays the problem. “I cannot imagine circumstances where any spouse’s career would be affected by someone in his family exercising his constitutional right to run for office,” Fattah says. When they got married, the couple decided that the division of labor would be stark: He hunts votes, she gathers news. “We have a wonderful marriage,” he says. “I don’t do any newscasts, and she doesn’t do any politics.” He points to the example of former mayors Marc Morial and Rudy Giuliani, who both held office—in New Orleans and New York, respectively—with anchorwomen as spouses.

But the circumstances there were different. Morial and his wife, Michelle Miller, didn’t meet until well into his time as mayor. Donna Hanover left her anchoring job when Giuliani first ran in 1989, and returned to the airwaves as First Lady—but only to do stories that stayed far from politics. While Chenault-Fattah has managed to avoid covering her husband while he sat in Congress, big-city mayors are harder to ignore. It’s tough to imagine how a news anchor could stick to covering arson and sex crimes in the midst of a mayoral campaign. Fattah says his exploratory efforts will proceed without any expectation that his wife’s job might be affected. “What if I ran for president or governor?” Fattah asks. “What if I tried out for the Eagles?”