The 2018 Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District is shaping up to be the toughest in recent memory for 11-term incumbent US Rep. Bob Brady.
First came City of Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad, who declared in November that she would pursue a primary bid against U.S. Rep. Bob Brady in the 1st Congressional District. Now, Philly politicos are talking up another possible Democratic contender from Mayor Jim Kenney’s inner circle – Deputy Mayor of Labor Rich Lazer.
Political consultants, labor union sources – even Kenney’s own confidants – all have said Lazer has expressed interest in exploring a run for the First District, a heavily Democratic district that snakes along the Delaware River and up into West Philadelphia.
Brady himself confirmed that there was something to the rumors – but added that he had an understanding with Lazer.
“I talked to the mayor and Rich awhile ago and he said he would not run against me,” Brady recounted during a Wednesday phone call. “There’s rumors out there that may be true, that if I don't run he would consider it. But as far as I know, I’m still running...and Kenney told me he was supporting me.”
Lazer, however, sounded less ambiguous about his intentions when interviewed late this afternoon.
“I’ve lived in the district my whole life and I’m committed to public service,” Lazer said late Wednesday. “I’m seriously considering jumping into this race.”
Speculation has been rampant that Brady could still step aside and anoint a successor. The congressman has endured a long investigation into a 2012 political payout deal that took down some of his closest aides and spurred a growing field of potential challengers.
Other sources said there had been private discussions about Lazer running with or without Brady’s blessing. Some said Kenney was likely to back Lazer, even if he ran against Brady – payback for the congressman snubbing Kenney during his successful 2015 bid for mayor.
“Irish people don’t forget anything,” said one source close to the mayor.
The 32-year-old Lazer has been loyal to Kenney for over a decade, since he began working with the then-City Councilman while still a student at LaSalle University. Lazer once served as his community liaison and, on occasion, a driver. He would ultimately follow Kenney to the mayor’s office, landing a $150,000 job serving as point man on the administration’s delicate labor negotiations with city unions.
Kenney heaped praise on Lazer after sealing a recent contract with DC-33, calling him a “salt of the earth” guy with a good sense of “what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Supporters said Lazer’s strong union ties and relationship to the mayor would give him a strong campaign advantage in the district.
“Rich would be a very formidable candidate and a great congressman,” said one political observer close to Lazer. “He is practically worshipped in South Philly and every labor union loves him. That district is much more blue-collar than people recognize.”
Lazer and Kenney, both South Philadelphia natives, share long-standing connections to labor unions. Lazer earned $24,000 as a “labor consultant” to the politically powerful International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, according to a 2015 labor report released by the union. Lazer’s wife, Lindsey, was listed as a staffer on the same report. During an FBI probe, federal prosecutors sought communications between the couple and union head John Dougherty.
Still other challengers are waiting in the wings. Campaign sources told City&State PA that minister and former Wells Fargo exec Michele Lawrence will formally kick off a recently rumored campaign on Monday. Lindy Li, a former financial analyst, and nonprofit director Omar Woodard have long been rumored to be exploring runs as well. Willie Singletary – a former traffic court judge jailed for lying to investigators in a ticket fixing probe – also announced his intention to run.
Meanwhile, Ahmad sent out a press release on Wednesday highlighting a $115,000 fundraising take from donors, putting her cash on hand at $564,000, including money she loaned herself for the campaign. It’s the biggest war chest, her campaign claimed, any Brady challenger has ever scraped together.
Although he said he had still not selected campaign staff to replace two consultants ensnared by the FBI probe, Brady said he was untroubled by his current and potential challengers.
“I don’t know who they are,” he said of Ahmad and Lawrence. “This is all coming from that FBI business. That’s totally done with, as far as I’m concerned.”