Brady shrugs off weakness talk

Some see political vulnerability. "I'm not going away anywhere," he said.

Posted: May 27, 2007

Bob Brady's agenda on Friday: Get a haircut and take the pile of clothes in his Jeep Wrangler to the cleaners.

Licking his wounds was not on the list.

Brady vowed to keep his chairmanship of the city Democratic Party and his U.S. House seat despite rumblings that he is vulnerable after a blowout loss in the May 15 mayoral primary.

"I'm not going away anywhere," Brady said in an interview, sitting on a sectional sofa in the den of his 34th Ward Democratic headquarters in Overbrook. "There's no blood in the water."

But some say there is. Already, several politicos are prospecting for a challenger to Brady in next year's House primary, or thinking of running themselves.

Clad in a Delaware River Port Authority polo shirt and surrounded by glossy photos of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and other heroes of his party, Brady spoke of having no regrets about the mayoral race, in which he finished fourth.

His cell phone kept ringing, but he's not running for mayor anymore, and for a few minutes, Brady let it ring.

He had run as "the change Philadelphia needs," but he even lost his home ward, getting just 17.5 percent of the Democratic vote there - better than his citywide average of about 15 percent, but still good enough for only third place in the 34th. Former City Councilman Michael Nutter carried the ward on his way to winning the Democratic nomination.

Mere vote returns don't capture how unpleasant the campaign seemed at times for Brady. He was the media's chew toy for weeks, enduring stories about his family's patronage jobs. He had to defend his right to be on the ballot in court after rival Tom Knox sued, alleging Brady's ethics-disclosure form was incomplete. That case disclosed the yearly payment into Brady's pension from the carpenters' union for occasional consulting work, and made him look like a bumbler on the witness stand.

All of that fed into Knox's efforts to caricature Brady as the epitome of the big-boss insider Knox wanted to crush as he took the "For Sale" sign off City Hall.

Brady fought back, even using a precious week of television time near the end of the campaign to attack Knox's business practices.

"I like Tom Knox. I'm sorry it wound up the way it wound up," Brady said. "But I just got tired of him beating up the Democratic Party and beating up the political process. I just wasn't going to take that anymore."

He believes he drew enough votes from Knox to deny him victory, he said. There's no love lost here: Knox has said how glad he was that Brady didn't win.

Despite it all, Brady insisted that he had enjoyed the campaign and would have second-guessed himself the rest of his life had he not tried.

"Nobody forced me into it. Nobody talked me into it," he said, dismissing the talk of political insiders that he was a reluctant candidate, pushed into the race even as his friend Jonathan A. Saidel, the fomer city conroller, was being pushed out.

Brady said he could have won the election if "cooler heads" in the appellate courts had struck down the city's campaign-contribution limits before the election. He said he had commitments from supporters, particularly labor unions, to pour millions of dollars into the campaign if the caps came off. "It was an unlevel playing field," Brady said.

Now Brady may have to defend his seat in Washington. He is the only white House member representing a majority African American district, and State Rep. Thomas Blackwell IV, whose father was a U.S. representative, said he was thinking of running. Some also are talking up State Sen. Anthony Williams.

"A strong nonwhite candidate could make trouble for him," said the Philadelphia NAACP chapter's president, Jerry Mondesire. He said that if Brady had put his power behind one of the African American candidates in the mayoral race - Nutter, State Rep. Dwight Evans, or U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah - Knox would not have been a threat. Some Democrats grumble that Brady's concentration on his own campaign allowed party-endorsed candidates for city commissioner and City Council to lose.

"Brady risked the party structure for an ego trip," Mondesire said.

Blackwell said that people had been encouraging him to run for the House for the last year, and that the calls had grown louder since the primary.

"I'm a politician. I have to consider it," Blackwell said. "I've known Bob for 30 years - he's a friend of mine - but we're in a business where paths sometimes cross. It's nothing personal against Bob, but I just think it's time for a change. That's what you saw on election day."

Williams said: "I'm not advancing my candidacy. As far as I'm concerned, Bob Brady is going to be congressman and head of the Democratic Party for a long time."

Labor leader John Dougherty, who supported Knox, said he had been approached about backing a challenger to Brady.

"People are starting to see weakness," said Dougherty, a bitter foe of Brady's in recent years. "If he thinks he's not going to have any opposition, he's delusional."

That may be, but Brady said he wasn't worried. He noted that the mayoral race had raised his public profile.

Also, Nutter has given no sign of wanting the party's 68 other ward leaders to boot Brady as chairman. And when city employees' contracts come up next year, a Nutter administration might need Brady's deep labor ties.

Brady is flush, too: Federal reports show his congressional campaign fund has at least $793,985.

And he has increased his power base by becoming mayor - of Capitol Hill, that is. That's the nickname of the post to which Brady was appointed last week: chairman of the House Administration Committee, which controls a $4.5 billion budget. The panel governs Congress' spending on itself, as well as funding for the Capitol Police, the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress.

"I control everything from the elevator operators to the speaker of the house's office," Brady said with a smile. "If people need new TVs or new rugs, or if they want their office painted, they have to come to me."

And that, he said, will redound to Philadelphia's benefit at appropriations time.

"People say, 'Thank you,' " Brady said.


Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.

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