“The feds don’t miss.”
That’s how former City Councilman Rick Mariano assessed the chances of beating federal corruption charges in a conversation a few years back.
They do miss once in a while, and Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah is cheerfully predicting he’ll overcome the indictment handed down Wednesday that accuses him and four others of racketeering conspiracy, bribery, and a host of other charges.
I read through the indictment’s description of a web of transactions by which Fattah allegedly orchestrated the theft of charitable and federal grant funds to repay $600,000 of an illegal loan to his 2007 mayoral campaign.
There’s an extensive paper trail. But it struck me how few places there were where Fattah personally gave instructions or was apprised of details. That might change if the four others charged with Fattah plead guilty and cooperate with the government.
If Fattah does stay and fight the charges, he’ll also be fighting for his seat soon enough. It’s up for re-election next year, and the spring Democratic primary is bound to attract challengers who think they can beat an indicted incumbent.
Whether they do depends in part on how many there are. If it’s a five-way scrum, you could imagine Fattah winning with a weak plurality of votes.
If he resigns, or forfeits the office after conviction and sentencing, the governor has 10 days to call a special election, which would occur at least 60 days hence.
In a special election there’s no party primary, so Democratic ward leaders would pick the candidate and, in effect, the congressman, with Fattah’s colleague, U.S. Rep. and city Democratic chairman Bob Brady having the loudest voice.
But sooner or later, there will be a real fight for the valuable prize of an open congressional seat, and it’s fascinating to imagine the field.
Mayor Michael Nutter is out of a job in January, and it seems like a decent fit for him. It would really fun to see him run against City Council President Darrell Clarke, who I’m told would be interested.Other potential candidates include District Attorney Seth Williams, state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Anthony Williams, and any number of City Council members, including Curtis Jones, Cindy Bass and Blondell Reynolds Brown.
For an expanded list and further scenarios check out this piece by PhillyMag’s Patrick Kerkstra.
I’ll be watching to see if any of Fattah’s four co-defendants plead guilty. Two members of the alleged conspiracy already have, and if more dominoes start to fall, it may be hard for Fattah not to rethink his future.