Blackwell, Fattah Too Close To Call?

Posted: April 29, 1994

State Sen. Chaka Fattah is moving fast.

He's in a neighborhood off North 54th Street in West Philadelphia - his home turf - knocking on doors, trying to get votes.

He tells people who he is, what he's done, that he wants to unseat Rep. Lucien Blackwell, D-Pa., and that it's time for a change.

"What we're selling is results," said Fattah, who can't help smiling confidently as he walks away from one well-wisher. "And there aren't any tangible results with Lucien Blackwell."

Fattah has reason to smile.

There are several signs that victory is within his grasp. The biggest indicator is that several key ward leaders say that publicly they're backing Blackwell but privately they're supporting Fattah.

"Lu's in the fight of his life and Chaka's right on his heels, and the reason is that Lu has not been responsive," said one ward leader. "He's ignored the ward leaders."

Blackwell could not be reached for comment, but Jim Davis, his campaign spokesman, said Blackwell has the "overwhelming support" of ward leaders in the district.

"We know we're going to win," he said. "We had similar allegations in 1991, but the ward leaders came through for us."

Party support is pivotal in a primary because party regulars are usually the ones who go to the polls and vote. Blackwell has the party's official endorsement.

With 11 days until the election, political experts, ward leaders and supporters of both candidates agree on one thing - this race is too close to call.

"If I were a betting man, I'm not sure who I would bet on. But I wouldn't

put all my money on Blackwell," said Randall Miller, an expert on Philadelphia politics at St. Joseph's University.

The campaign to represent the 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of West Philadelphia, parts of North and South Philadelphia and three boroughs in Delaware County, has been fought out on the streets and among party leaders. Both candidates have run radio ads.

There was a minor flap when a local newspaper reported that many of Fattah's Senate staffers contributed to his campaign. There was a slightly larger flap when Fattah voted to lift Philadelphia's ban on assault weapons. (He said it was a mistake, that he gave his proxy to State Sen. Vince Fumo, D-Philadelphia, and has since corrected it.)

But the biggest dust-raiser in the campaign was Fattah's assertion that many of the voter signatures on Blackwell's nominating petitions were forged. After a week or so of intense publicity, Fattah withdrew his charges rather than disclose the source of his information.

An independent review of the petitions by a handwriting expert for the Daily News concluded that more than 300 of the signatures were likely forgeries, but Blackwell still had far more proper signatures than needed to get on the ballot.

While Fattah says he has knocked on thousands of doors, Blackwell has not done much door-to-door campaigning. Instead, he has relied on his incumbency, a steady stream of radio ads and support from ward leaders and elected officials like Mayor Rendell.

Blackwell - a high-profile political leader for decades - has not had easy elections since going to Congress. In the 1991 special election to fill the term remaining from Rep. William H. Gray III, he got 39 percent of the vote and Fattah, running on the Consumer Party ticket, came in second with 28 percent.

In the 1992 Democratic primary, Blackwell beat C. DeLores Tucker by about only 7,000 votes.

This week, Blackwell was at a park near Center City making the pitch he hopes will get him re-elected.

People are against him, he says, because he stands up for poor people.

Blackwell, known for his fiery oratorical style during his years on City Council and later on Capitol Hill, points to the Daily News' endorsement of Fattah.

The editorial mentioned that Blackwell is a champion for the "little man," but endorsed Fattah because of his record of achievements.

"Someone said Lucien Blackwell spends too much time caring about the little people," Blackwell yells to a crowd of about 20 people. "Well, if caring about the little people is wrong, I don't want to be right."

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