Rep. Chaka Fattah (D)
Pennsylvania 2nd District
Looking out over the Schuylkill River north of Center City Philadelphia, you can still see the landscape painted 100 years ago by Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins: the tightly-packed but formidable rowhouses, the old fieldstone houses of Germantown, the gray-blue water flowing past boat houses below the small Greek temples of the Water Works and the larger temple of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On both sides of this romantic scene are some of Philadelphia’s long-established black neighborhoods: West Philadelphia, across the Schuylkill on either side of Market Street; North Philadelphia, on either side of Broad Street; historic Germantown to the northwest, off the narrow diagonal of Germantown Avenue. Pennsylvania never had slavery, thanks to William Penn and his Quaker legacy, and Philadelphia has been home to a large black community since before the Civil War. That heritage is reflected in places like the John Coltrane House on North 33rd Street, designated a national historic landmark in celebration of the jazz innovator’s early years here. Suburban Cheltenham Township includes old, comfortable communities like Cheltenham, Melrose Park, Elkins Park and Glenside. Some neighborhoods continue to suffer from poverty and blight, and the city has 600,000 fewer people today than it did in 1950. In 2006, it fell behind Phoenix to become the sixth-largest city (although as a metropolitan area, it ranks 5th). From 2000 to 2007, it had the biggest population loss of the nation’s 10 largest cities.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Pennsylvania takes in much of the city of Philadelphia west of Broad Street, plus Cheltenham Township in suburban Montgomery County. It doesn’t include the key colonial landmarks—they’re in the neighboring 1st—but it does include most of the skyscrapers of Center City and well-heeled Rittenhouse Square, the Philadelphia Zoo (America’s first), the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. It also includes lush Fairmount Park, the largest landscaped urban park in the world, which climaxes at the grand Philadelphia Museum of Art, where a Rocky-like run up the steps became de rigueur for tourists. The district takes in West Oak Lane, Strawberry Mansion and, further west, the distinguished old neighborhoods of Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill and East Falls. The 2nd also covers Roxborough and the old mill area of Manayunk, now an artsy enclave. With a 59% African-American population, it is Pennsylvania’s only black-majority district. From 2000 to 2007, the district suffered a 10% population loss, which could force an expansion in redistricting after the 2010 census. The district is heavily Democratic, and was Republican nominee John McCain’s fifth-worst performing district in the nation in 2008. He got just 10% of the vote. The bottom four were all in New York.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D)
Elected: 1994, 8th term.
Born: Nov. 21, 1956, Philadelphia .
Education: Community Col. of Philadelphia, U. of PA, M.A. 1986, Harvard U. Kennedy Schl. of Gov., 1984.
Family: Married (Renee Chenault Fattah); 4 children.
Elected office: PA House of Reps., 1982–88; PA Senate, 1988–94.
Professional Career: Asst. dir., House of Umoja, 1977-79; City of Philadelphia, Spec. asst. to dir. of Housing & Community Dev., 1980, Spec. asst. to managing director, 1981.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Chaka Fattah (SHOCK-ah Fu-TAH), a Democrat first elected in 1994. He was born Arthur Davenport, one of six children of a poor single mother in Philadelphia. She changed his name after she married community activist David Fattah; his first name was taken from a Zulu warrior. His parents were both politically active, producing a magazine for African-Americans and opening their home as a neighborhood gathering spot for teens at risk of joining street gangs. Fattah dropped out of high school, but later got an equivalent diploma and went on to earn a master’s degree in government administration at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1982, at age 25, was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, its youngest member ever. Six years later, he was elected to the state Senate. In 1991, Democratic Rep. William Gray, the powerful House majority whip, resigned to become head of the United Negro College Fund. In the special election to succeed him, local Democratic ward leaders nominated Councilman Lucien Blackwell, a former longshoreman and labor union stalwart. Fattah ran under the Consumer Party label while state Welfare Secretary John White ran as an independent. Blackwell won with 39% to 28% for Fattah and 27% for White. In 1994, Fattah ran again, this time taking on the Democratic establishment in the primary. Blackwell relied mostly on ward politicians. Fattah was endorsed by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. This time Fattah won, 58%-42%. He has had no serious primary or general election challenge since. Fattah’s wife, Renee Chenault-Fattah, is a local television news anchor in Philadelphia.
|Chaka Fattah (D)||276,870||(89%)||($699,411)|
|Adam Lang (R)||34,466||(11%)||($4,729)|
|Chaka Fattah (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (89%), 2004 (88%), 2002 (88%), 2000 (98%), 1998 (87%), 1996 (88%), 1994 (86%)
Fattah has a liberal voting record. Unlike Rep. Robert Brady, the city’s other congressman, Fattah’s focus is more nationally oriented. “A policy wonk with savvy,” the Philadelphia Inquirer called him. He has advocated eliminating the federal tax code and replacing all individual and corporate taxes with a system that would tax all individual transactions, an idea that generated some interest among Republicans. But most Democrats are leery of anything that looks like a consumption tax.
Much of Fattah’s focus has been on education. He worked on the “Gear Up” program to prepare low-income students for college, although in 2007, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that the program had limited effectiveness for local kids, and the city’s schools phased it out. In late 2008, he had another setback in his education initiatives when he abruptly shut down a federally funded scholarship program he founded called CORE Philly after it became the target of an FBI investigation. In the past, Fattah also has secured money to curb witness intimidation in Philadelphia, and to combat the use of unsafe blood supplies that transmit HIV/AIDS in Africa.
In December 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named Fattah chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus, with the goal of legislation to address urban challenges.
Fattah ran and lost a campaign for Philadelphia mayor in 2007. “I want to transform this city from a city of Brotherly Love to the city of Real Opportunity,” he said. The move prompted grumbling among local Democrats planning to run for mayor that he was giving up his clout as an appropriator, and even some threats that Fattah would face a primary challenge for his House seat. Also in the crowded primary race was Brady, of the neighboring 1st District, former City Councilman Michael Nutter, and wealthy businessman Thomas Knox. Fattah began the race as the early frontrunner, but his campaign struggled to raise money and drew criticism over his refusal to release his income tax returns. Nutter was the eventual winner with 37% of the vote, followed by Knox with 25%. Fattah finished fourth with 15%, less than 200 votes behind Brady, who also had 15%. In 2008, Fattah won re-election easily.