Congressional hopefuls scramble as Pa. districts shuffled

Candidates start circulating nominating petitions Tuesday in new districts due to the court order. Some are changing districts, some are quitting.

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Former deputy mayor Nina Ahmad will challenge U.S. Rep. Bob Brady in the Democratic primary.

After Pennsylvania's congressional districts were redrawn, former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad decided against challenging U.S. Rep. Bob Brady in the Democratic primary. Instead, she'll run for lieutenant governor. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Candidates for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania begin circulating their nominating petitions Tuesday in new districts created by the state Supreme Court after it found the old districts to be gerrymandered.

The redistricting has caused a scramble as candidates try to match their political ambitions, their home addresses, and the newly drawn districts.

Several candidates announced plans to run for the seat of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who decided not to seek re-election.

One, former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad, announced early and invested $450,000 of her own cash into the campaign. Then she saw the court order.

“The first district that I was running in got cut up into three pieces,” Ahmad said in an interview.

She found if she ran in Philadelphia, it would have to be against an incumbent congressman. She said those two representatives, Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle, are progressive voices. So she’s decided she’ll run for lieutenant governor instead.

Another announced candidate for Brady’s old seat, minister Kevin Johnson, now finds he lives in Evans’ district, and he’s decided he’ll challenge the incumbent.

“This race was never about a person,” Johnson told me. “It’s about systems, structures, and policies that have left people behind.”

When I asked if Evans represented those policies, Johnson declined to say, but said that he has something special to offer.

Evans said he’s up to the challenge and expects to succeed in keeping his seat.

Former bank executive Michele Lawrence, who had also announced a run for Brady’s seat, has decided to run against Boyle.

She said she’s running “to bring service, opportunities, and solutions to the people,” a mission that “transcends any neighborhood or congressional boundaries.”

Yet another contender who was eyeing the Brady seat, former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Labor Rich Lazer, appears poised to run for the newly created 5th Congressional District. The new 5th consists mostly of Delaware County and some parts of South Philadelphia, including Lazer’s home on Ritner Street.

Lazer isn’t talking about his plans, but he’s expected to run with substantial backing from building trades unions.

Taking names in a hurry

Candidates throughout the state will have three weeks to collect 1,000 signatures on their nominating petitions from registered voters of their party who live in the newly drawn districts.

Veteran election lawyer Larry Otter said many candidates will be sending volunteers into areas they hadn’t expected.

“They’ll be collecting signatures in places they didn’t know existed three weeks ago,” Otter said.

Two Republican lawsuits challenging the new districts. If federal courts were to overturn the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order, that could set a scramble of candidates to run in the old districts again.

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