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Brady, Fattah Extend Mayoral Losing Streak for House Members

The outcome of yesterday's mayoral primary in Philadelphia illustrates a harsh political reality that the path to City Hall rarely is through Capitol Hill.

Two House members who represent parts of Philadelphia -- Reps. Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah -- failed badly in their bids to secure the Democratic nomination for mayor of Philadelphia. Their showings amounted to a tie for third place by gaining less than 16 percent of the vote each.

Once considered potential frontrunners, Brady and Fattah were swamped by more than two-to-one by former City Councilman Michael Nutter. With a five-to-one registration edge for Democrats, Nutter almost certainly will become the next mayor of the City of Brotherly Love, sweeping to victory on a message of eliminating corruption at City Hall and fighting a surge in violent street crime.

But Fattah and Brady couldn't even keep pace with insurance executive Tom Knox, who ran his first race ever and spent an estimated $10 million of his own money to score a second-place finish.

Fattah, a seven-term House member whose district cuts a wide swath across the city, was considered a top prospect to win the mayor's office six months ago. Charming and dynamic - he's married to a local TV news personality - Fattah seemed perfectly positioned for this race and held early leads in the polls.

Brady, who has long served as the local Democratic Party boss, has very close ties to labor unions and is viewed as an expert behind-the-scenes negotiator.

But the congressmen join a list of recent House members who have been unable to turn their work on Capitol Hill into success back home in mayor's races. Waging a campaign for the mayor's office from the House of Representatives may be as much of a long-shot as mounting a drive for the White House from the Senate.

House members trying to become mayor repeatedly have lost out to candidates with political roots firmly planted in the city, not on Capitol Hill. The issues that House members are focused on, such as the war in Iraq, combatting terrorism and immigration reform, don't readily translate into big-city votes.

In 2005, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) lost the Democratic nomination for mayor of the Big Apple, with former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer winning (and eventually getting swamped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the general election). In 2001, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) finished fifth in the nonpartisan mayoral election in Los Angeles.

In 1999, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) challenged the Daley Machine in Chicago and won less than 30 percent of the vote in a primary against incumbent Mayor Richard Daley (D). That race went so poorly for Rush that local Democrats thought he'd weakened himself and a little-known first-term state senator with a funny first name challenged Rush in the 2000 primary for his House seat. Rush successfully beat back the challenge and handed now- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) the only defeat of his career.

Members of the House haven't always had such trouble securing the mayoralties of major cities. Philadelphia elected William Green mayor in 1979 straight from the House, and two of New York's most storied mayors used their seats in the House as political springboards to Gracie Mansion -- Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1933 and John Lindsay in 1965. In 1953, then-Rep. Norris Poulson won the mayor's race in Los Angeles, holding onto the post until he lost to a former House member, Sam Yorty, in 1961,

In fact, current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the daughter of the late longtime Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., who served in the House for more than eight years before becoming mayor in 1947.

The current drought of representatives-turned-mayors doesn't appear ready to change any time soon. In Chicago, Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) and Luis Gutierrez (D) both talked about jumping into a challenge to Daley this past spring, but both balked at the tall task.

The most likely next House member to take the plunge is Weiner, who is eyeing a bid to succeed Bloomberg when term limits force him out of office in 2009.

Voters will be watching Weiner to see if he can connect locally in a way that mayoral candidate Fattah apparently never did. One local GOP strategist summed up Fattah's campaign to the Philadelphia Daily News this way: "His operating slogan seemed to be, 'I'm here, and aren't you lucky.' His words were right, but there was no oomph behind them. You couldn't hear the music."


By Paul Kane  |  May 16, 2007; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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