Speculation begins on a possible Fattah replacement

When Fattah found his 2007 mayoral campaign race undone by a new anti-corruption law that limited loans and donations, prosecutors say, he schemed to evade the limit.
When Fattah found his 2007 mayoral campaign race undone by a new anti-corruption law that limited loans and donations, prosecutors say, he schemed to evade the limit. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / File Photograph)
Posted: September 04, 2014

He has not been charged with any crime, and the plea memo summarizing the wrongdoing of his onetime top aide does not even name him.

Even so, some political leaders around Philadelphia already are talking about potential replacements for Rep. Chaka Fattah - a.k.a. "Elected Official A" - just in case the federal corruption investigation that has reached the Democrat's inner circle eventually forces him from office.

They can't help themselves. It's how politics works.

Among the names under discussion are Mayor Nutter, District Attorney Seth Williams, State Sen. Vincent Hughes, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and William Green, chairman of the School Reform Commission and a former councilman.

Fattah's Second District covers West, North, and Northwest Philadelphia as well as Lower Merion, and is overwhelmingly Democratic.

In addition to discussing names of possible candidates, political operatives have been familiarizing themselves with the procedures for holding a special election in the district.

Fattah did not respond to efforts seeking comment.

His spokeswoman, Ally Freeman, said in an e-mail: "Congressman Fattah is committed to his work on education, brain research, and jobs, all of which has helped and continues to help millions of Americans. He is committed to continue this work for the next ten years in Congress."

The behind-the-scenes talk began after last week's guilty plea by Gregory Naylor, Fattah's former chief of staff and a longtime confidant who has become a cooperating witness in an ongoing probe.

The complicated scheme involved a $1 million loan that federal prosecutors called a campaign contribution designed to evade the $5,000 limit in Fattah's 2007 campaign for mayor. The plea memo said the loan was partially repaid with federal grants routed through a nonprofit and two intermediaries associated with the congressman.

"A lot of people are looking at it - I've heard the rumblings," said Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist David Dunphy. "At this point, though, it's all an academic exercise."

As Dunphy noted, it's not yet clear that Fattah will be charged. Even if he is, he could fight any charges while continuing to serve in Congress.

If Fattah were to leave office up to one month before the Nov. 4 election, Democratic leaders of the 34 city wards in the district, along with party committee members in Lower Merion, would be able to select the party's nominee to face Republican Armond Jones, a teacher from West Philadelphia.

If a vacancy occurs after Nov. 4, the governor would set the date of a special election and both party's committees would chose their nominees; the winner would serve until the next regular election for the U.S. House in 2016.


tfitzgerald@phillynews.com215-854-2718 @tomfitzgerald www.inquirer.com/bigtent

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