Jokers run for Schwartz’s Congressional seat

    I mean that in a good way.

    A couple of the likely candidates to succeed U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District are two of the funniest people in local politics.

    Montgomery County State Senator Daylin Leach is known around the capitol as an accomplished stand-up, and former Philadelphia City Controller Jonathan Saidel is a natural cut-up who routinely breaks up crowds with winning Borscht Belt schtick.


    They’re likely to compete in the Democratic primary for the district, which includes large areas of Northeast Philadelphia and plenty of Montgomery County.

    Schwartz’s departure from Congress to run for governor isn’t a done deal, and Leach and Saidel aren’t the only contenders for her seat. But they make an interesting match-up with contrasting approaches and style.

    More than one kind of comedy

    While both are funny, Leach is an ideologue, an unabashed liberal whose web video touts his early support for gay marriage and his “F” rating from the NRA.

    Saidel is a classic Philadelphia pol, whose success is rooted in his understanding of personal relationships. For years he was so close to Philadelphia Democratic party chairman U.S. Rep. Bob Brady that he referred to himself at times as “Brady’s driver.” He was seen more than once chauffeuring Brady around as the chairman worked on settling some labor dispute.

    Saidel says he already has many pledges of support from ward leaders and labor officials, but isn’t launching a campaign yet because Schwartz hasn’t made her move. You respect relationships.

    Leach is going full bore, with a website featuring a campaign video that makes clever use of his family. “If you’re on Facebook, which I, tragically, am not,” his young daughter says in the video, “make sure to like his page.”

    Saidel is a city guy who says he has plenty of relationships in suburban townships. Leach is a suburbanite with childhood roots in Northeast Philly.

    Campaigning on a budget

    Daniel McElhatton, a Democratic consultant who used to work for Schwartz, told me this will be an interesting kind of Congressional race. Because it’s an open seat and the big battle will be in the Democratic primary, it won’t attract the kind of big national money that would support big television buys.

    So personal reputation and field organizations will be important, he said, “and it also puts a lot of power in party apparatuses, whether it’s ward leaders or township leaders in Montgomery County.”

    That means Saidel’s relationships with political players could be useful. But he also has some history that can be exploited. His 16 years in office had their share of controversy — an investigation of his girlfriend’s use of campaign funds and the revelation that Saidel was paid by two law firms looking for city business.

    When I spoke to him, I asked if he was worried about his baggage.

    “It would only be baggage if I did something wrong,” he told me. “You know, when I was the Controller, I investigated hundreds of people. That doesn’t mean they did anything wrong. Being investigated and being cleared is part of a process.”

    Others in the mix

    So far the action in this pre-campaign is on the Democratic side. The Republicans haven’t run a competitive race in the district for years.

    Among other potential Democrats are young Northeast Philadelphia State Rep. Brendan Boyle, somebody to watch; and Valerie Arkoosh, a politically active Montgomery County physician who was a nationally-recognized supporter of the Affordable Care Act.

    Arkoosh has filed a federal statement of candidacy. My calls to her were returned by a campaign representative who said they don’t have anything formal to say at this point.

    Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro will be a major contender if he chooses to be. It’s not clear whether it fits into his ambitions at the moment.

    Other Democratic names mentioned include Montgomery County Prothonotary Mark Levy and Northeast Philadelphia State Rep. Mark Cohen.

    It’s early. Nobody has to file for the office until early next year. But it’s not too soon to be raising money, courting supporters, and in the case of Leach and Saidel, polishing their lines.

    If those guys run, I want to cover that debate.

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