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PA-1: Bad Blood, Machine Politics & Race

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Our first congressional district is one of the two composing inner-city Philadelphia. The district is one thin sliver along the border to New Jersey and Delaware. Not surprisingly, being in the middle of one of the strongest Democratic machines nationally, the district is heavily blue. The district has not elected a Republican since James Gallagher in 1946. Machine politics have always defined this district and the surrounding city, sending Republicans to Congress consistently for over 82 years in times past, and now is likewise dominated by Democrats to the same degree it was once controlled by liberal Republicans. Politics here is personal, where ward leaders and city council members compete to bring the largest share of the burdened city’s resources to fix their constituents needs. This is often done with a wink and a nod, and politicians such as Ozzie Myers have consistently won elections based on their ability to do this. This district is also one of the two minority districts in the state.

The current emblem of machine politics here is Congressman Bob Brady, around since1997, and you couldn’t find a better example of a machine politician than him in Congress. In a city swimming with corruption, with names like Vince Fumo, former City Councilman Marino, Mayor Street and his brother, among others, Brady is the chairman of the city party, and his run for Mayor last year showed him using the same tactics and attitude we see on a regular basis. But this same mayoral election has showed the first cracks in what was the invincible machine he used to deliver PA to the Democrats in 2004. His personal politics has rubbed many Democrats in the city the wrong way, and his weak showing of third in the primary, not even half of Nutter’s vote, led many in the city to speculate that he would face his first serious primary challenger(Lucian Blackwell almost challenged him in 1997).

They were right. Keith Leaphart, a relative newcomer to elected politics, is challenging Brady for the Dem nomination in 2008. Leaphart is running on the notion that he can “cure” what ails the First District. His site does not mention Brady by name, but it is clear from his opening message that he is running against Brady’s style of politics much the same way the Nutter ran last year. As Brady is one of the few whites representing a plurality black district, and with Brady’s “Dennis Kucinich” style of ethnic politics, Leaphart’s race could swing a lot of votes towards him. It remains to be seen whether Brady’s institutional support will fade or not. If he does retain his support, he will likely win in a walk, corralling all of his precinct chairs into the type of politics that has been successful for two centuries. However, if Leaphart can ride the same wave that led Micheal Nutter to win last year despite little support from ward leaders, Brady may just have a fight on his hands.

District Statistics

2006 Election
Bob Brady- 100%

2004 Election
Bob Brady- 86%
Deborah Williams 13%

Kerry- 84%
Bush- 15%

Michael Barone’s Almanac

December 31, 2007 at 9:19 pm
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