Dwight Evans takes early seat in Congress

    Dwight Evans is shown after winning the Pennsylvania Democratic primary in April. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    Dwight Evans is shown after winning the Pennsylvania Democratic primary in April. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    Pennsylvania state Rep. Dwight Evans is now officially U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans. The 62-year-old Democrat, who easily won last week’s general election, was sworn into office Monday night during a ceremony in Washinghton, D.C.

    Evans, who spent nearly four decades in Harrisburg, is taking his seat early after winning the special election called to replace former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who resigned from his post in the 2nd Congressional District in June after being convicted on a slew of corruption charges.

    Two other freshman lawmakers – Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky and Democratic U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii – were sworn in alongside Evans.

    To Evans, the extra time will be invaluable.

    “I’d go this weekend if I could,” said Evans on election night. “It helps on the education curve – where things are – and just looking to understand the lay of the land.”

    Evans made his work transforming the city’s West Oak Lane section the centerpiece of his campaign, his fifth for higher office.

    While serving as Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Evans helped steer millions to the northwest Philadelphia neighborhood in the form of state grants.

    In Congress, Evans wants to continue rebuilding struggling communities. He’s said he wants to focus on transportation and infrastructure.

    Evans will have his work cut out for him. In addition to being a freshman lawmaker, he’ll have to contend with a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House next year.

    Asked about their expectations for Evans, district voters, those who knew of him, expressed some optimism, but also a healthy dose of doubt.

    “I don’t have any expectations because he’s going be a freshman congressman with no seniority,” said Narberth resident John Brogan. “I don’t have any hopes at all.”

    Delores Oglesby, of West Philly, is trying to be more positive.

    “He’s a good person. He’s got good intentions for the people. I just hope he do what he say he going to do,” said Oglesby.

    Fellow Narberth resident Mohamed Maatallah said, right now, Evans just needs to be a fighter in Congress, especially if there is an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

    “You’re not going to succeed in passing everything you believe in, but if he’s not succeeding in pushing what he believes in, at least Democrats can become a challenge to Republicans and make sure we don’t do anything that has no place in America,” said Maatallah.

    Fattah spent more than two decades in Congress before losing April’s Democratic primary. During his campaign, he touted the political power tied to that seniority, reminding voters on his website that freshman lawmakers “do not serve on the Appropriations Committee.”

    Evans has said his freshman status will not impact his ability to get things done in Congress.

    “That’s a perfect argument for those who sit in status quo – who don’t want to do anything. Somebody like myself is just the opposite … always pushing the envelope.”

    Fattah is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 12 after being convicted of racketeering conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, and other offenses.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.