Brian Sims is officially facing off against a man who has been a Philadelphia political force for decades. The big question remains: Does he stand a chance?
Sims, who’s currently in his second term in the state House representing Center City and parts of Fairmount and South Philly, filed paperwork this week confirming he’ll run against incumbent Chaka Fattah in the 2nd congressional district in 2016. Fattah, who was indicted earlier this year on a number of racketeering charges, has expressed that he’ll run for re-election in the same district that has elected him by huge margins 10 times.
But Sims, best known for his work in the realm of LGBT rights and being the first openly gay member of the PA state House, sees Fattah’s indictment as an opportunity — not only to run for national office, but to show constituents in the 2nd district that he’ll be “an advocate” for them.
Billy Penn spoke with Sims Tuesday afternoon about his bid for Fattah’s seat in Congress, why he’s running for national office now and whether or not he’ll also seek re-election in his state House district. Here’s our conversation, which was lightly edited for clarity:
What have the last few days really been like for you? Obviously rumors have been circulating for a while. It must feel nice to finally clear the air.
I don’t see it as clearing the air. This is something that I’ve spent a lot of time very carefully talking to the right people around me and people I know and don’t know. So the process behind this makes me feel good about where I’m at right now. I think I went about this very much the right way.
Why run for national office now? Is this more about current Congressman Chaka Fattah being indicted? Or is this just a good time for you politically?
I think I’m going to benefit from both. A lot of congressional races can last a year and half or two years. This is something that, because of a change in the political reality, is becoming too common in Philadelphia and it made a challenge like this possible. When I started having conversations with people about, ‘could I do this?’ we definitely took a look at the reality.
So ethics and being a clean politician will be a big part of your campaign?
Yes of course. And I say that almost begrudgingly, because that’s what we’re supposed to start with. (But) we’re supposed to talk about guns and schools, and we’re not because we have to reinforce that, at the very least, our public servants have to do the job with the integrity that the job demands. So yes, I’m going to talk about ethics and those things are important, but they’re where we should be starting from, and we should be talking about guns and schools.
The rules say you can run for both Congress and re-election in your House seat. Do you have plans to run for both, or are you focused solely on Congress?
I’m certainly going to run for re-election, there’s no question about it. I carefully considered that, and I think it’s the right thing to do. I agree with the Committee of Seventy, and I don’t believe in resigning to run. I’m committed to either being back in the state House or hopefully in Congress. I’m going to run for both.
Is that practical? How do you run two separate campaigns, or do you see it as one campaign for two seats?
This is where I’m happy to say I’m not a campaign expert or a political pundit. I don’t even begin to guess at those things. People tell me this is the right path, and I agree.
We spoke way back in April in sort of a general Q&A and we talked about your focus on civil rights, specifically LGBT rights. You said you didn’t mind coming across as a one-trick pony because it was more or less “the most needed trick pony.” Do you think you’ll have to broaden your policy focus in order to win a national seat?
One of the things I’m most proud of is I’ve been doing this work as a policy attorney for my entire career. I worked at the EPA, worked on pay equity my whole career. The truth is, the trick I wish everybody had, the trick is advocacy. That’s something I have a history of doing. LGBT rights is a component of it. Me being the first out person in the state House was over the moment it happened. There are out people in Congress. This is about having a proactive Democrat that’s utilizing the resources of the whole district.
Have you spent much time with constituents in the 2nd District and what are some of the major issues affecting them?
More than half my constituents are in the 2nd congressional district. I am literally there every day working in this community. I’m not being introduced. I already represent them. Hopefully once we get beyond the ethics, we are going to talk about economic justice, not only about education funding but what are we doing with education funding? Is it equally spread? I’m excited about those issues.
What do you say to people who claim you can’t win in a largely black district?
I don’t feel similarly at all. I’m a civil rights attorney. I know now what I didn’t know before, and that’s what Philadelphians and voters in the 2nd district want. They want an adovate and somebody who will fight hard for them. The days of Philadelphia’s identity politics, maybe they need to be rethought. They need to see a champion. Nobody talks about my race or their’s. What they say is what they can do with a common goal.