Rep. Robert Brady (D)
Pennsylvania 1st District
Everywhere in Center City Philadelphia, American history is close at hand. The statue of William Penn, who founded the city in 1682, stands 37 feet high atop the ornate, Empire-style City Hall built in the 1880s at Market and Broad. To the east is Independence Hall, where Americans in the 1780s drew up the nation’s Constitution, and not far away are the restored townhouses of Society Hill. Philadelphia is built on a certain order. Other American colonies were settled by practical men, out to make money or replicate a farm settlement back home. But Penn was a Quaker, a member of one of the 17th century sects that prized reason, and he imposed order on his new environment: no cow-path street patterns here, like those in Boston or Charleston, but a grid of numbered and named streets, with precisely spaced open squares. Penn’s city of brotherly love grew to be a commercial and industrial metropolis that spread out over the countryside until Philadelphia was the young nation’s largest city. Today, the old colonial-era structures are interspersed with architect I.M. Pei’s modernist Society Hill Towers, and with the masonry-faced skyscrapers of the 1920 and glass-and-steel versions of recent decades.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
For all the grandeur of its City Hall, Philadelphia has seldom had a city government to be proud of. “Corrupt beyond redemption” is how journalist Lincoln Steffens described the city more than a century ago. Corruption and incompetence have reigned here off and on since then. While the city’s private economy grew robustly in the 1980s, the city government lurched toward bankruptcy under Democratic Mayor Wilson Goode. Then in 1991, Democrat Ed Rendell was elected mayor, and did well enough to become in 2002 the first former Philadelphia mayor to be elected governor since 1906. Unfortunately, Rendell’s push for reform stalled in the mid-1990s. Philadelphia still has an inordinately expensive city government. And it has neighborhoods ravaged by crime that have emptied out over the years. But there are signs of hope. Philadelphia has some of the nation’s most vibrant and socially active churches. Center City remains attractive to young professionals, a growing number with families, and the population there increased 11% from 2000 to 2007. The metropolitan area is fifth largest in the country.
The 1st Congressional District of Pennsylvania contains much of Philadelphia east of Broad Street and all of 18th century Philadelphia: Independence Hall, the U.S. Mint, and Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continually occupied residential block in the country. It also takes in Chinatown, Society Hill, Overbrook, the Northern Liberties village, and Penn’s Landing, and Philadelphia’s four-square-block convention center, the largest in the Northeast. North of Center City, the district includes much of heavily black North Philadelphia, a couple of wards of Northeast Philadelphia (connected to the rest by irregular boundaries), and Kensington and its closely packed 19th century homes, where descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants lived for years in tiny frame houses that are increasingly occupied by Hispanic immigrants. The 1st includes once-heavily Italian South Philadelphia, where families and their small stores and restaurants have been pressed tightly into narrow streets. The Rocky movies were filmed there and the Philadelphia cheese steak originated there. Nearby, the district takes in the city’s stadium and arena complex. The 1st continues along the Delaware River shore southwest into Delaware County to impoverished Chester. And it takes in three wards in heavily black West Philadelphia and a few small adjacent suburbs. The population of the minority-majority district in 2007 was 48% African-American and 17% Hispanic (mainly Puerto Rican), the highest of any Pennsylvania district. Despite growth in Center City, the district’s population overall fell 2% since 2000, and Philadelphia itself has lost 30% since 1950. This is a heavily Democratic district that gave the party’s 2008 nominee, Barack Obama, 88% of the vote.
Rep. Robert Brady (D)
Elected: May 1998, 6th full term.
Born: April 7, 1945, Philadelphia .
Education: St. Thomas More H.S..
Family: Married (Debra).
Elected office: 34th Ward Dem. exec. cmte. mbr., 1967–present, Ward ldr., 1980.
Professional Career: Carpenter; Real estate salesman; Philadelphia dpty. mayor for labor, 1984-87; Chmn., Philadelphia Dem. Party, 1986; Legis. rep., Metro. Regional Cncl. of Carpenters & Joiners, 1987-98; Lecturer, U. of PA, 1997-present.
The congressman from the 1st District is Robert Brady, a Democrat elected in 1998. He is the personification of Philadelphia’s old-fashioned urban politics, one of the last white ethnic party bosses left in big-city America. He grew up in Overbrook Park in West Philadelphia, with an Irish father who was a policeman and an Italian mother. After high school, he went to work as a carpenter, quickly rose through the ranks of the carpenters’ union, and remains a dues-paying member. He entered politics in 1967, at age 22, when the local ward leader wouldn’t replace a burnt-out streetlight. Brady was elected to the 34th Ward Democratic Executive Committee, and in 1980 he was elected ward leader. In 1986, he became chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. He depicts himself as a roll-up-your-sleeves guy who represents working class voters, and says he’s proud to be the boss of what he calls the nation’s largest big-city machine—or, as he calls it, an “organization.” Brady is known for making “arrangements” with others—“They’re always arrangements, never deals,” he insists—and he has been chairman for more than two decades.
|Robert Brady (D)||242,799||(91%)||($1,013,835)|
|Mike Muhammad (R)||24,714||(9%)|
|Robert Brady (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (86%), 2002 (86%), 2000 (88%), 1998 (81%), 1998 (74%)
In November 1997, Democratic Rep. Thomas Foglietta, a veteran of South Philly politics, became ambassador to Italy, and Brady ran for the seat. The district’s ward leaders determined the Democratic nomination for the special election and they favored Brady. With the endorsement of many black leaders and a strong Election Day organization, he won the special election with 74% of the vote.
After his election to the House, Brady’s focus remained back home. “Ninety-five percent of my day is not Congress,” he once said. He mediated a local teachers’ strike in 2000, and he sought common ground between the mayor and City Council on a deal for two new stadiums. His ties to City Hall and to local unions gave him credibility with both sides. Brady worked to resolve local intra-party conflicts. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, he chewed out feuding City Council Democrats at one memorable private meeting. “You are a [f_____] embarrassment. You’re embarrassing me, embarrassing yourselves. You’re like a bunch of 10-year-old children. If you’re not careful, you’re not going to be here next year,” he said, banging the table. “I’ve got 30 ward leaders who don’t want to support you and 30 more who want to run against you.”
Brady has a liberal voting record and keeps a low-profile in Washington. For “the most powerful man in Philadelphia,” Philadelphia magazine once wrote, “Washington gas-bagging is not his thing.” His initiatives reflect his local orientation. He says he decided that he was in favor of abortion rights after asking his mother. His loyalty to unions led him to buck environmentalists and most Democrats to vote for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have found the perfect job for him. Brady became chairman of the House Administration Committee, the so-called “Mayor of Capitol Hill” who oversees operations of the House and doles out favors like choice office space. As part of the opening of a new visitors’ center at the Capitol, he approved memorials to honor African-Americans who had been slave laborers during the original construction of the building.
Prior to becoming chairman, he ran for Philadelphia mayor in the May 2007 primary. He joined the field late and had significant opposition, including from three veteran local black officials who had operated largely outside Brady’s organization—U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, state Rep. Dwight Evans and former City Councilman Michael Nutter. Brady’s platform was standard fare, including a call for more open government, safer streets, improved schools and lower taxes—though the details were not always certain. Democratic ward leaders endorsed him, in overwhelming numbers but with varying enthusiasm.
And his campaign ran into an unusual stumbling block: a lawsuit seeking to remove Brady from the ballot because he did not include his union pension on a candidate disclosure form. Brady revealed in court that his pension benefits were accruing as though he was working a full work week, a curiosity, given the fact that he was serving in Congress. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that his “stumbling performance on the witness stand” raised “a harsh question: Is Bob Brady smart enough to be mayor?” He paid nearly $20,000 in fines for violating the city’s campaign-finance laws. He finished a distant third in the primary, with 15% of the vote. Ever the party loyalist, Brady immediately dismissed the results as a “family squabble” and moved quickly to endorse primary winner Nutter. But in Philadelphia’s Byzantine politics, Brady’s weak performance—he lost even his home ward in Overbrook—raised questions about his political vulnerability. There was talk of a 2008 primary challenge from an African-American candidate, but it never materialized. Brady had no opposition in the 2008 primary and won the general election with 91%.