BY BRIDGETTE OUTTEN
Since 1998, former union pol now Philadelphia’s Democratic Party big boss Bob Brady has held Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district seat. It’s an amazing run considering his district’s racial make-up.
Because Brady is a White politician who consistently wins in a district that is majority Black. The district, largely based throughout North and Northeast Philadelphia, is over 45% Black – yet, it has never had a Black Member of Congress represent it in Washington. It’s a curious statistic that has had many brows raised for many years, particularly those in Black Philadelphia.
And as the April 24 primary approaches tomorrow, Brady is unopposed by anyone in his party – that was after retired municipal court Judge Jimmie Moore left the race in March.
Many long time observers of Philadelphia politics were suggesting that Moore could have been the 1st Congressional District’s “Great Black Hope,” a chance for the largely African American and working class district to get some representation of color like its sister 2nd Congressional district overseen by Rep. Chakka Fattah (D-PA). But Moore, according to multiple accounts and sources couldn’t keep up with fundraising after amassing nearly $200,000 in campaign debt.
“After giving full consideration [and] in an effort to unify the Philadelphia Democratic Party, [I] have decided to withdraw my candidacy,” Moore said in a joint statement issued with Brady, according to reports. The two men promised to work together for the future of the district and the Democratic Party.
That meant Brady would be helping Moore mop up his debt.
But back in January, the relationship wasn’t as friendly as Brady’s support of the recent GOP-backed redistricting of Pennsylvania’s districts caused controversy.
Moore had accused Brady of “selling out his political party in return for having the lines of congressional district redrawn in a way helpful for his re-election,” the Daily News reported.
“While the Democratic party as a whole was the big loser in the redistricting process, you were among the biggest winners,” Moore wrote in a open letter to Brady. “For your part, you have acknowledged that you secured Democratic votes for the plan, despite it being so brazenly skewed in favor of the GOP.”
But, in the very race-conscious City of Brotherly Love, Moore’s assertions were coded in the animus of racial tensions that have been brewing for generations between the city’s Black and White political wings. Each time the city’s African American political base attempts to challenge the dominant White political structure – long run by a coalition of old money elite, working class and ethnic Whites, and union bosses – the efforts get stymied by lack of organization, money and entrenched racism. Brady, a professional carpenter who rose to city political ranks when he became Democratic Party chair in 1986, has taken advantage of that while leaning on a wobbly foundation of Whites, Latinos and Blacks to hold his political fortunes together.
That includes many a backroom deal between Brady and Philly Black politicos who appear to have little choice but to succumb to his demands or risk finding themselves jobless. That skill has earned Brady, known for his folkish style and beefy Philly accent, a reputation for being somewhat of a political Godfather.
Moore wasn’t the only one in the Democratic Party who challenged Brady’s support of the redistricting. State Rep. Tony Payton (D-Philadelphia), who had troubles of his own that caused him to drop of the primary race for the 179th Legislative District, also called foul on the redistricting. Now, Payton – once a rising young African American political star in a city with a Black male unemployment rate near 50% – is out. Some observers point to the Brady Machine punishing Payton for his outspokenness on the redistricting issue.
Payton claimed that gerrymandering of the 1st Congressional District gave Brady a greater percentage of White voters – something that could help him in a tough primary race against Moore. And, that’s a problem in a section of the city that is overwhelmingly African American in its composition. Brady, continually nervous about the appearance of a White politician having a power foothold over a mostly Black district, was not pleased about the attempt to paint him as insensitive.
Attempts to contact Brady about the redistricting were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Brady – with no reason to worry about tomorrow’s election – has focused on other things.
The Congressman is embarking on a week-long food stamp challenge beginning April 23 to live on $5 a day, which is the average food stamp benefit in the state.
— Managing Editor Charles D. Ellison contributed to this story.