Two reps running for Philly mayor could result in a special election

House Democrats will soon see two of their colleagues do battle for a seat outside the Beltway: Rep. Robert Brady is expected to announce tonight that he will run for mayor of Philadelphia this year against Rep. Chaka Fattah.

House Democrats will soon see two of their colleagues do battle for a seat outside the Beltway: Rep. Robert Brady is expected to announce tonight that he will run for mayor of Philadelphia this year against Rep. Chaka Fattah.

Should Brady (D-Pa.) or Fattah (D-Pa.) win the Democratic mayoral primary in May and go on to win the general election in November, which is almost assured given the city’s heavily Democratic lean, a long list of Philadelphia Democrats would jockey for the seat in Washington, insiders say.

“For either seat, it would really be a free-for-all,” Philadelphia analyst Larry Ceisler said.

If either congressman wins in November, then the other race, or races, begin. City ward bosses would likely select a candidate to run in a special election to fill the seat, presumably in the first few months of 2008, and candidates could file for either seat regardless of the district in which they live.

But because Pennsylvania’s primary is set for April next year, sources there say it is likely that whoever is selected to run in the special election would find himself or herself simultaneously running in a crowded primary as well.

According to Pennsylvania law, the governor would have to announce a special election within 10 days of the vacancy and set a date not less than 60 days from that on which the vote would be held.

Pennsylvania pollster and analyst Terry Madonna said that while the party — of which Brady is currently chairman — would have considerable influence over whom the eventual candidate would be, so, too, would the incoming mayor.

The endorsement of a replacement for either man would be a study in political contrasts, Madonna said, pointing to Brady’s position as “the consummate insider” and Fattah’s “higher profile.”

Sources speculate that Fattah, who has been polling ahead of the crowded field, would look to a number of aides who have followed him throughout his career, like former state Sens. Cindy Bass or Vincent Hughes, who has succeeded Fattah in every seat the congressman has held.

Fattah said this week he didn’t want to get ahead of the May primary, but he didn’t anticipate getting too heavily involved in such a campaign if and when it evolves.

“I don’t intend to be a kingpin in that situation,” Fattah said.

Brady, who is often described as the boss of the city’s political machine, could not be reached for comment, but in anticipation of his announcement, both local labor leader John Dougherty and former city Controller Jonathan Saidel withdrew from the race. Both said Brady’s entrance had no bearing on their decisions, according to reports.

Though neither could be reached for comment, sources in the city said they don’t see Dougherty as a likely candidate.

Saidel, however, had about $1.3 million cash on hand and was polling well in the race before his decision to drop out. That, combined with his popularity with the city’s ward leaders, could put him in a strong position for either seat, despite his residence in the northeastern part of the city.

“Saidel is certainly looking like he got happy all of a sudden,” one city official said.

Further complicating the decision for both congressmen is the probable candidacy of current Mayor John Street.

Because Street is widely considered to be interested in either seat should they become open, both Fattah and Brady would have to take pains to avoid the illusion of backing another horse lest they risk his endorsement, sources said.

The balancing act works for Street as well, Ceisler and Madonna said. If he wants to run for either congressional seat he could be in danger of angering the as-yet unknown incoming mayor by possibly supporting his opponent in the mayoral primary.

“I would think it would be in his best interest not to get too involved,” Madonna said. “But Philly politics being what it is, anything can happen.”

And with four Democratic candidates — five, including Brady — in the mayoral primary, Ceisler said any or all of those who don’t win the primary might look immediately toward a congressional seat.

State Rep. Dwight Evans, millionaire Tom Knox and former city Councilman Michael Nutter are running against Brady and Fattah, and Nutter’s name comes up often as a possible congressional candidate in discussions with Pennsylvania political analysts.

Madonna and Ceisler said the race dynamic — Fattah’s district is about 61 percent black, Brady’s 45 percent — adds another wrinkle to the situation.

When Brady won his seat in 1998, he did so after a special election in which he was chosen by the city’s ward bosses despite running in a district with a high percentage of minority voters.

Analysts said a crowded black field could split the minority vote, giving a white candidate the advantage. Both Knox and Saidel are white.

Fattah cautioned that though a special election is still far on the horizon, the mayoral primary is sure to heat up in coming days and weeks.

“Nobody has thrown in the white towel here,” he said.