Candidates emerge to take on Fattah in April primary

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     Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon (left) and Democratic ward leader Dan Muroff are challenging incumbent 2nd District Congressman Chaka Fattah. (Photos provided by the candidates)

    Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon (left) and Democratic ward leader Dan Muroff are challenging incumbent 2nd District Congressman Chaka Fattah. (Photos provided by the candidates)

    Candidates who run for re-election while facing criminal charges don’t generally get a free ride, and there are now two declared challengers to embattled Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah.

     

    Fattah, you’ll recall, faces conspiracy, bribery and other charges related to several alleged schemes, including the repayment of an illegal campaign loan with federal and grant funds.

    Who’s in?

    Declaring his candidacy in a news release this week is Brian Gordon, a commissioner from Lower Merion Township, the affluent Main Line area that was added to Fattah’s district the last time Pennsylvania’s Legislature recarved seats following the 2010 census.

    Gordon is a long-time civil rights lawyer who’s been on the commission for 10 years. We spoke a bit Wednesday. He said he wants to go to Congress to address economic inequality, job creation and climate change.

    And while he may not be well known in the Philadelphia parts of the district, he said he’s lived there and knows people.

    “I’ve lived 18 years in Philadelphia in four different neighborhoods,” Gordon said. “And now I’m living and working and serving as a commissioner in Lower Merion. The district is me.”

    From the fighting 9th

    Also in the mix is Dan Muroff, an attorney, former congressional staffer and activist in progressive causes who’s the Democratic leader of the 9th Ward in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy.

    He formed a campaign committee a while ago and has been quietly raising money, which he’ll need to overcome the name recognition of Fattah and others who might get in.

    This would be his first run for public office other than committeeman, but he’s serious about the effort.

    “I’m a fighter,” he told me. “I always have been for causes that matter to me, and I think that matter to the constituents of this district, whether it’s gun violence prevention, or the environment, or justice reform.”

    Neither candidate directly criticized Fattah when we spoke, or said he should resign.

    Which brings us to the delicate subject of race, which matters in Philadelphia elections. It’s not determinative, but it matters.

    Fattah is a leading African-American representative in Congress, having held his seat for 20 years. Both the announced challengers are white.

    What makes this interesting is that the 2nd Congressional District changed some in the last redistricting.

    Republicans in the Legislature took Democratic-leaning Lower Merion and Narberth away from the 6th District and added them to Fattah’s district.

    A cynic would say this was to make the 6th District safer for Republican candidates by packing more Democrats into Fattah’s district, where Republicans have no chance.

    But the effect was to make Fattah’s district somewhat less African-American, inspiring hope among candidates like Gordon and Muroff.

    Who else?

    There’s much talk that state Rep. Dwight Evans will jump in. He’s African-American, and well known.

    I left a message saying I’d have to mention his name in this story. We go way back, and he didn’t return my call, which I have to take as a maybe.

    And there’s state Rep. Brian Sims, the up-and-coming lawmaker from Center City who unseated long-term incumbent Babette Josephs as an openly gay candidate. He didn’t return a call either.

    There are plenty of other names circulating, including Mayor Michael Nutter (not likely, I think), District Attorney Seth Williams, and state Sen. Vincent Hughes, who probably wouldn’t run unless Fattah steps aside..

    The better-known and better-funded candidates have the luxury of waiting a bit to see what the field looks like before making a decision.

    Fattah returned my call, as he typically does, and said what he’s been saying all along: he’s innocent, he’s running, and ready for any comers.

    He declined to respond to any specific names, noting that nobody is officially a candidate until he or she files nominating petitions. But he made it clear he’s determined, and isn’t bothered by the fact that he’ll be running while preparing for his trial, scheduled for just days after the April primary.

    “I’m not distracted at all,” he told me. “I have lawyers who are handling it. I’ve been focused, and continue to focus on doing my job. And I’m going to continue to do it for as long as the people in my district want me to represent them. There will be no surrender on the battlefield.”

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