Two in Philly Try Leap from Congress to City Hall It's pretty unusual for members of Congress to try to become mayor. But that's what's happening in Philadelphia, where two House members – Reps. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady – are seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination in the May 15 primary.

Two in Philly Try Leap from Congress to City Hall

Bartlett, elected in Dallas in 1991, was the last to leave Congress to become a big-city mayor. hide caption

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Fiorello La Guardia tried to move from the House to City Hall in 1929 but was defeated. hide caption

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The funniest line — and the best button — in South Carolina. hide caption

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California Democrat Burke was the first member of Congress to give birth while in office. hide caption

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Sixty-two years ago today, President Truman moves Hannegan from the DNC to become his Postmaster General. hide caption

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It's pretty commonplace to see mayors attempt to advance their political careers by running for the House or Senate. It's more unusual the other way around: members of Congress trying to become mayor. But that's what's happening in Philadelphia, where two House members – Reps. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady – are seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination in the May 15 primary. (Mayor John Street is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.)

While there are still two weeks to go and things could change, both Fattah, who is black, and Brady, who is white, have an uphill climb.

Brady has 20 years as chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party under his belt. But the Street administration has been beset by corruption scandals and by its inability to curb a skyrocketing homicide rate, and some of that could be rubbing off on Brady. The same applies to Fattah, who started off the race as the nominal favorite but has since fallen in the polls. Fattah is thought to be the choice of the outgoing mayor.

In fact, the betting as of this point is on one of two candidates: Tom Knox, a white millionaire businessman who is spending freely ($7 million and up) out of his own pocket in his first bid for office; and former Councilmember Michael Nutter, who is African-American.

Interestingly, Knox's rags-to-riches story has helped him make inroads in the black community, while Nutter's longstanding criticism of Street has resulted in good numbers among white voters. The Philadelphia Inquirer has endorsed Nutter. Also of note: Outright racial appeals and sloganeering have not been hard to find in the City of Brotherly Love in the past – witness the campaigns of Street and the late Frank Rizzo; but they are all but gone this year.

(Also seeking the Democratic nomination is state Rep. Dwight Evans. Al Taubenberger is the candidate of the Republican Party, which hasn't elected a mayor of Philly in more than a half-century. And Sam Katz, a three-time GOP candidate who ran against Street twice, has abandoned the Republicans and is readying an independent bid.)

Of the two House members competing in the Democratic primary, Fattah clearly has the better shot. But no sitting congressman has been elected mayor anywhere in the country since Steve Bartlett, a Texas Republican, won in Dallas in 1991. (Actually, for the record, Bartlett resigned his House seat a month or so early to make the race.)

Here's a list of some of those who have tried since Bartlett; all are still in the House. As with Fattah and Brady, none of them had to give up their House seat to run for mayor:

  • Anthony Weiner (D-NY) – finished second in the 2005 Democratic primary in New York City (and likely to run again in '09);
  • Xavier Becerra (D-CA) – finished fifth in the non-partisan 2001 primary in Los Angeles;
  • Bobby Rush (D-IL) – finished a poor second in the 1999 Democratic primary in Chicago (the following year, in a Dem primary for his House seat, Rush was challenged by some state senator by the name of Barack Obama, whom he beat convincingly);
  • John Conyers (D-MI) – lost badly in the 1989 and 1993 Democratic primaries in Detroit.

And here's another list, hardly complete, of other famous and not-so-famous sitting congressmen who have run for mayor over the years (winners in CAPS):

  • BILL BONER (D-TN) – Nashville 1987
  • HAROLD WASHINGTON (D-IL) – Chicago 1983
  • ED KOCH (D-NY) – New York 1977
  • Herman Badillo (D-NY) – New York 1977
  • Herman Badillo (D-NY) – New York 1973
  • Mario Biaggi (D-NY) – New York 1973
  • James Scheuer (D-NY) – New York 1969
  • JOHN LINDSAY (R-NY) – New York 1965
  • William Ryan (D-NY) – New York 1965
  • James Roosevelt (D-CA) – Los Angeles 1965
  • JACK SHELLEY (D-CA) – San Francisco 1964
  • HUGH ADDONIZIO (D-NJ) – Newark 1962
  • Henry Reuss (D-WI) – Milwaukee 1960
  • NORRIS POULSON (R-CA) – Los Angeles 1953
  • THOMAS D'ALESANDRO JR. (D-MD) – Baltimore 1947
  • JAMES MICHAEL CURLEY (D-MA) – Boston 1945
  • Fiorello La Guardia (R-NY) – New York 1929
  • JAMES MICHAEL CURLEY (D-MA) – Boston 1913

DEMOCRATIC DEBATE SCORECARD: The eight Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination met at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg on April 26, their first debate of the season. The bulk of the media coverage, to no one's surprise, was about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and how nice they were to each other. There were, it should be pointed out, six other candidates on the stage. Here's a thumbnail review of how they did:

Joe Biden: Was effective in his denunciation of the Supreme Court's decision affirming the ban on so-called partial-birth abortion. He also had the best line of the night. When moderator Brian Williams of NBC News asked in a 61-word question whether the Delaware senator could deal with his "uncontrolled verbosity" and assure voters that he could keep from yakking all the time, Biden said, "Yes."

Hillary Clinton: She started slow but finished strong. Showed little of the cautiousness for which she has been criticized. Avoided the question about whether she agrees with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's characterization of Iraq as "lost." Was forceful on a question regarding how to respond to a terrorist attack. And, as she has in the past, she had a convincing answer to John Edwards' charge (see below) about her responsibility to call her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq a mistake.

Chris Dodd: Reiterated his strong opposition to the Bush war policy, acknowledging his 2002 war vote was wrong. The only Democrat on the stage to vote to confirm Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Dodd was asked if he regrets his vote; he said he did not. But he gave a forceful defense of the Roe decision and of his support for abortion rights.

John Edwards: Baited by NBC's Williams, Edwards – as he has for months now – conceded that his 2002 vote to go to war against Iraq was a mistake and suggested that it was up to the others who did the same (such as Clinton) to admit the error of their ways. If she feels her vote was a mistake, he said, "It's important to be straightforward and honest" and say so. Had to deal with the inevitable question about why his campaign paid for $400 haircuts. While he couldn't resist referring to his familiar "my-dad-worked-in-a-mill-all-his-life" personal story, Edwards was strong in talking about his roots, where he came from, and his goal to create similar opportunities for all.

Mike Gravel: I guess the fact that a lot of ink and conversation were devoted to Gravel's performance means that it was a success, even if for the most part, he seemed like someone from the Planet Gravel. He was clearly the Howard Beale of the debate, the "mad-as-hell" character with little patience for his fellow Democrats, singling some of them out by name for their views on Iraq and rhetoric about Iran. Some of them "frighten me," he offered. But if some saw him rambling and wasting valuable time, others saw him as espousing a viewpoint that needed to be articulated.

Dennis Kucinich: The Ohio congressman wondered how his fellow Democratic candidates could call themselves anti-war while at the same time vote to fund that same war, calling it "inconsistent." Was alone in his call for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney.

Barack Obama: In focusing on the contrast between the two so-called front-runners, Clinton has often been described as "cautious," while Obama has been the "red hot" rock star. But it was Obama who seemed a bit off his game, a bit less substantive than advertised. He found himself on the defensive over his relationship with a donor with questionable ethics. And if Clinton answered the question about a hypothetical al-Qaida attack forcefully, Obama seemed to hesitate.

Bill Richardson: I don't know if anyone was especially affected one way or the other by his performance, but it's hard to make a case that Richardson helped his cause. As a Western governor who has long supported hunters' rights and the Second Amendment, Richardson is a favorite of the National Rifle Association. NBC's Williams reminded viewers of that fact, asking if Richardson's views on gun rights were affected by the carnage at Virginia Tech. And when asked to name his favorite Supreme Court justice, Richardson curiously named the late Byron White — one of the two jurists to dissent from the Roe v. Wade decision affirming a woman's right to an abortion. On Iraq, he said he would have all U.S. troops out by the end of this year.

Want more? Read my on-the-scene debate review.

STALIN FOR TIME: Last week's column featured some unusual buttons of Sen. Bob Dole and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, issued during Yeltsin's visit to Kansas in the early 1990s. The items reminded me of what may be the last time in which the names of an American senator and a famous person from Russia were linked on a campaign button: An apparently anti-Robert Kennedy button from 1968 links him with Svetlana Stalin, Josef's daughter, who defected to the United States in '67.

Kennedy and Svetlana button

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) gave birth on Sunday, the first member of Congress to do so in more than a decade. Here are the other House members who have given birth while in office:

  • Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (D-CA) – daughter, 1973
  • Enid Greene Waldholtz (R-UT) – daughter, 1995
  • Susan Molinari (R-NY) – daughter, 1996
  • Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) – twin sons, 1996

TRUTHINESS TO POWER: Some final thoughts/reax to my comments in last week's column about the comedians who performed at the last two White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Lynn Simons of Cheyenne, Wyo., writes, "I was relieved that your take on Rich Little turned out to be about like mine, having witnessed the debacle on C-SPAN. I thought even his impersonations were lacking. A guy past his prime, I guess."

But as for my criticism of Stephen Colbert's act at the 2006 dinner, David Hemingway of St. Louis, Mo. , writes, "I'm sorry to read that you felt Colbert's performance was mean-spirited. It is so amazing that comedians who do not pretend to be real news people are now the ones most likely to bring to light incompetence and corruption of a well-to-do ruling administration that purportedly 'real' journalists are still hesitant to press. I often wonder if the U.S. would have come to hold the disastrous relations it currently has, had the press been more focused on pursuing truth, rather than being affably chummy with this administration."

And then there was the question from Joanne Clayton of Storrs, Conn., who writes, "I love your column and tend to agree with your analysis all the time. But one thing you and I part company on is your obsession with the New York Yankees. I notice you haven't written much about the Yankees recently. Could it be because they've lost seven in a row?"

Well, to quote Joe Biden, yes.

WE'RE ON THE AIR: The "Political Junkie" segment can be heard on Talk of the Nation, NPR's call-in show, every Wednesday at 2:40 p.m. But this week, we're starting about 10 minutes earlier. Joining the conversation is Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and Republican consultant Ed Rogers; we'll talk about last week's Democratic debate and look forward to Thursday's GOP debate. Remember, if the online column leaves you craving more, then you should tune in to TOTN each Wednesday for your fix! And if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: Which just so happens is the name of our weekly podcast. It's hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and myself, coincidentally (and sadly) the only two people in Washington whose names were not found on D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey's clientele list.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This Day in Political History: President Truman announces the appointment of Robert Hannegan, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as Postmaster General (May 2, 1945).

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