Why Congress wants Chaka Fattah out now, and who might replace him

Michael Nutter is being discussed as a potential replacement for Fattah should there be a special election.

Congressman Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat, speaks to the center for American Progress in 2010.

Congressman Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat, speaks to the center for American Progress in 2010.

Photographer Ralph Alswang via Flickr

Updated 12:55 PM Thursday

Chaka Fattah will resign from Congress. His original plan was to wait until the day after he was sentenced on corruption charges; on Thursday, he abruptly reversed course, and stepped down.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan wants him out before then, and Democratic leaders wouldn’t mind that timeline. Fattah is a Hillary Clinton superdelegate, not the best look for the party (or the city) when the national spotlight hits the DNC next month in Philly.  

So the next questions are, how will this play out? And who will replace him if there’s a special election for the seat before Dwight Evans takes over? One person being discussed is a certain former Philadelphia mayor.

The resignation/special election process

Fattah doesn’t want to leave until October 3. To avoid the embarrassment of getting expelled from Congress (only five Congressmen in history have been expelled, and only two since the Civil War) he’d probably resign ahead of an expulsion, though.

Getting the votes for an expulsion shouldn’t be difficult. First, the Ethics Committee, chaired by Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent, would need to recommend the action. Then, two-thirds of the House would need to vote to expel Fattah. Republicans control about 56 percent of the House; only a few Democrats would have to vote him out.

Once Fattah is out, either through resignation or expulsion, Governor Tom Wolf would have 10 days to decide whether to hold a special election for the seat, per Pennsylvania code. Also per Pennsylvania code, at least 60 days have to pass between the announcement of a special election and the holding of a special election.

If Fattah doesn’t resign until Oct. 3, then a special election couldn’t be held until December. That would give his replacement about a month in office before Evans takes over, and making that special election pretty much worthless. For the 2nd District of Pennsylvania to have any voice before next year, it would behoove Fattah to resign as soon as possible so a special election could be held.

The possible replacements

Here are three names being discussed in Pennsylvania Democratic circles as possibilities for Fattah’s seat should there be a special election:

Michael Nutter

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the Celebration of Freedom Ceremony at Independence Hall on July 4, 2014.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the Celebration of Freedom Ceremony at Independence Hall on July 4, 2014.

The former Mayor has always had a major national profile; he’s arguably more popular in Washington than in Philadelphia. Anyone who wants to win a special election needs the support of city ward leaders and Nutter, a ward leader himself, should be able to do that.

Jannie Blackwell

Blackwell’s late husband, Lucien Blackwell, held this seat before Fattah did. Like Nutter, she’s a ward leader and would hold enough influence to get the necessary support. The longtime West Philly City Councilwoman is also likely nearing retirement. This would be an honorary position of sorts to hold before leaving politics.

Frank Oliver

Put this as another lifetime achievement award. Oliver, a former State Representative, retired in 2010, but remains a popular figure in local political circles. He’s also a ward leader.

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