Jim Foster’s longshot campaign against U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah survives tumultuous start

Some might equate Germantown Newspapers Inc. Publisher Jim Foster’s upstart campaign against U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah to a quixotic quest that will inevitably end in defeat.

When presented with that line of thinking on Monday, Foster conceded his longshot status versus a nine-term legislator in what “some consider the safest seat in the U.S. Congress.”

However, when the state rejected his nominating petitions, in part because another “independent” filed a day earlier, he appealed (and cried foul).

Then, he challenged signatures of candidate Robert Ogborn for validity as only one “independent” can appear on the ballot, per state law.

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That move proved to be an effective one as a signature review led Ogborn to drop out of the race on Friday. (A call to Ogborn went unreturned Monday, but he told the Inquirer that “‘a lot’ of the signatures were those of college students who listed addresses that did not match voter records ‘I’m not going to fight this,’ he said. ‘Why draw this out?'”)

Not an easy race

Provided nobody files a new challenge to Foster’s candidacy by Wednesday night, he will be listed as an independent on an Election Day ballot against Fattah and Republican candidate Robert Mansfield.

“It goes without saying that it’s difficult to run against a candidate who won 88, 89 percent of the electorate on multiple occasions, but he’s run without an opponent most times,” Foster said during a phone interview Monday afternoon.

“No Democrat dares run against him in the primary; that’s out of the question,” he continued. “Then, there’s an ineffective Republican party. They should be Avis trying to beat Hertz, but they’re Rent-a-Wreck.”

Foster said he plans to hand off editorship of the Germantown Chronicle and Northwest Independent for at least three months.

He also told NewsWorks that he was “energized to take a stab at this” when redistricting transformed a district “tailored to be robo-voting for [Fattah]” into one with friendlier “most-likely voters” in portions of Montgomery County like Lower Merion Township.

A new district

“They’re probably not overwhelmingly happy that Chaka is going to become their congressman,” Foster said of areas featuring more party diversity than traditional Democratic strongholds in the city.

The 69-year-old who has lived in Germantown and Mt. Airy for most of his life noted that he intentionally stayed out of the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods that his newspapers cover when collecting signatures, and intends to avoid anything which could be perceived as his papers serving a campaign mouthpiece.

“I don’t think people in Narberth necessarily know me. Maybe they’ve stumbled across my name on an editorial I’ve written,” he conceded. “But, I think they’re the type of folks who are willing to listen to a guy with rudimentary experience in politics and with newspapers.”

Hints of his pitch to voters

He also offered a little insight into a campaign strategy in the suburban communities.

“I intend to campaign heavily there, talking from my usual straight-from-the-hip ‘what I think about the Philly political machine’ manner, but amplifying that,” said Foster, who unsuccessfully sought the Eighth District City Council seat in 2011. “If you think politics are currently a problem there, wait till the Fattah Machine moves in to tailor you to the Philadelphia system.

“When I was collecting signatures, I didn’t get batted away,” he said, drawing a comparison to Democratic strongholds in the city. “Maybe Chaka isn’t the star that he and others in the machine would like people to think he is.”

What ails the Second

Foster was asked if there’s a sense of victory that could come even if it isn’t at the polls on Election Day and spoke about bringing issues into focus.

“The Second District in Philadelphia basically holds within its borders some of the most blatant examples of the troubles in the city today,” Foster said. “It’s the whole idea that quality-of-life has gone downhill so far since he first got the seat, along with all the other malaise of high crime, low conviction rates, failed budgets, a failed school system.

“It’s so badly deteriorated, yet he’s the congressman who claims he’s always responsible for bringing grants here. Something has to massively change. That’s the kind of stuff I want to focus on.”

For his part, Fattah did not seem worried about the competition while visiting the Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club on Friday, a day when his camp denied Foster’s assertion that it backed Ogbourn’s candidacy as a way to keep him off the ballot.

“Unfortunately, Foster admits to using state election law to challenge another candidate’s right to run and now, to cover his tracks, issues a false allegation that requires the Corbett Administration and Fattah to have secretly joined forces in order to keep him off the ballot,” said Maisha C. Leek, spokeswoman for Fattah.

“While false and unfounded allegations appear to be Mr. Foster’s mode of operation, there are more pressing public policy issues facing the public,” Leek continued. “Those issues remain the Congressman’s focus.”

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