After more than two decades leading the 2nd Congressional District, indicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s political career is over. He lost Tuesday’s Democratic primary, and with his federal corruption trial looming, an eight-minute concession speech was seemingly all he could manage.
“It’s a time to look forward. I have won more than 30 elections and even though I may not win this evening, I still count myself in the winner’s circle,” said Fattah from inside the Center City headquarters of 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees.
Before bolting out the door, Fattah told a small group of supporters how proud he was of the programs he launched during his career, of the millions he sent back to the district while sitting on the House Appropriations Committee, and of the issues he championed, including education, affordable housing and brain research.
“This work has helped millions of Americans,” said Fattah.
Within minutes, the room was empty except for a few reporters and untouched stacks of white campaign hats, presumably pressed for a win that never came.
The clock on Fattah’s time as one of the city’s most prominent and powerful politicians had officially started ticking away.
Across town, state Rep. Dwight Evans basked in victory. After four failed runs for higher office, he finally had a ticket out of Harrisburg. The gamble of not running for his seat there had paid off.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Evans had 42 percent of the vote in the four-man primary. It’s a race, given the district’s Democrat-rich voter rolls, that effectively crowns the district’s next congressman.
Philadelphia ward leader Dan Muroff and Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon also ran to replace Fattah.
Along with Evans, they were the first Democratic challengers Fattah had faced since first being elected in 1994.
Inside a banquet hall in Germantown, Evans bear-hugged and backslapped his way through the crowd before stepping behind a clear plastic podium for some brief remarks.
Evans spent most of the time thanking people, but did briefly touch on his campaign.
“We worked hard to stay positive and to talk about the issues that effect each of us. That’s what the campaign should all be about: issues and people,” said Evans.
On the campaign trail, Evans never mentioned Fattah’s indictment — no one did. Instead, he talked about his work transforming Northwest Philadelphia’s West Oak Lane neighborhood and his hopes to do the same for other neighborhoods in the district, several among the city’s poorest.
The 2nd Congressional District includes parts of North, Northwest, and West Philadelphia, as well as most of Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County.
“This is not about politicians. This is about people. And for 36 years that’s what I’ve tried to do. And I admit to you that I have not been a perfect person. I recognize that. But I also recognize that I’m a public servant,” said Evans.
Evans was first elected to his position in 1980, at the age of 25. Now, he’s on track to be a 62 year-old freshman congressman.
Fattah is maintaining his innocence and has called the charges against him “frivolous” and a “smear.”
In July, federal prosecutors announced a 29-count indictment against Fattah and four associates.
Fattah is charged with racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and other offenses for allegedly misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, charitable donations and grant money.
The indictment covers five schemes Fattah and his co-defendants allegedly orchestrated for personal and political gain.
The one that grabbed most headlines, alleges that Fattah used a pair of nonprofits he founded to help repay part of an illegal $1 million campaign loan made during his failed bid for Philadelphia mayor in 2007.
Jury selection is scheduled to start Monday. The trial is set to begin May 17.