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.