The B Team: PA’s 2nd Congressional District Candidate Forum

Since 2006, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s Men’s Club, Sisterhood and Israel Action Committee have jointly organized candidate forums to provide the community an opportunity to discuss issues with our Congressman and his challenger during each Congressional election. Until the recent redistricting, our township Lower Merion was located in Rep. Jim Gerlach’s 6th district. The 6th District was one of the most competitive districts in the country. While the Republican incumbent was always reelected it was usually by small margins and the district was carried by the Democratic Presidential candidate.

Year PA 6th Congressional District Presidential Race
2002: 51.4% Jim Gerlach, 48.6% Dan Wofford
2004: 51.0% Jim Gerlach, 49.0% Lois Murphy, 48% George W. Bush, 52% John F. Kerry
2006: 50.6% Jim Gerlach, 49.4% Lois Murphy
2008: 52.1% Jim Gerlach, 47.9% Bob Roggio, 41% John McCain, 58% Barack Obama
2010: 57.1% Jim Gerlach, 42.9% Manan Trivedi

Since the redistricting, Gerlach has replaced Democratic leaning Lower Merion with Republican leaning parts of Berks county in order to give himself some breathing room. Lower Merion is now part of the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District. The 2nd District is represented by Chaka Fattah who has been elected and reelected by enormous margins.

Year PA 2nd Congressional District
1994: 86% Chaka Fattah, 14% Lawrence Watson (R)
1996: 88% Chaka Fattah, 12% Larry Murphy (R)
1998: 86% Chaka Fattah, 14% Anne Marie Mulligan (R)
2000: 98% Chaka Fattah,  2% Ken Krawchuk (L)
2002: 88% Chaka Fattah, 12% Tom Dougherty (R)
2004: 88% Chaka Fattah, 12% Stewart Bolno (R)
2006: 89% Chaka Fattah,  9% Michael Gessner (R)
2008: 89% Chaka Fattah, 11% Chris Kunc (R)
2010: 89% Chaka Fattah, 11% Rick Hellberg (R)

The lopsided demographics in this district lead to insurmoutable odds which discourage any serious challengers. In fact, the Republicans did not even bother fielding a candidate in 2000. (Ken Krawchuk was the Libertarian party’s candidate.) I have long argued that redistricting should be nonpartisan and have the goals of eliminating such non-competitive districts and creating a state map that reflects the partisan balance of the state.

The country is best served when both parties field the best candidates they have to offer and provide the voters with a real choice. This year Rep. Fattah is facing a pair of political neophytes: the Republican Robert Mansfield and Independent candidate Jim Foster. According to the Federal Election Commission, Fattah has raised over a half-million dollars while Mansfield has raised about ten thousand, and Foster has not reported any campaign contributions.


Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Rep. Chaka Fattah

A fair crowd was on hand to get acquainted with our new Congressman. However, due to a couple of simultaneous events at the synagogue and the lack of a competitive contest the attendance fell short of the previous candidate forums organized at the synagogue. Rep. Fattah spoke first and a sizable fraction of audience excused themselves after his remarks.

Rep. Fattah described the annexation of Lower Merion by his district as “a shotgun wedding arranged by the Pennsylvania Republicans” but he was happy to meet his new constitents. His first political campaign was to represent the Overbrook neighborhood (in Philadelphia about one mile from our synagogue) in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He won that 1982 primary by a mere 58 votes out of over 10,000 votes cast, so he is well aware of the value of every vote.

AIPAC has described Chaka Fattah as one of the most reliable and stalwart pro-Israel members of Congress. His chief of staff has just returned from a mission to Israel, and the Congressmen will soon embarking on his first trip to Israel. As the ranking member of the Appropriation Committee’s Science Subcommittee, he will be leading a delegation from the National Science Foundation to launch new collaborations between the US and Israel in the field of Neuroscience. Fattah has spearheaded this funding which is destined to improve our understanding of age-related degenerative diseases of the brain and traumatic brain injuries. The leadership of the local Hadassah chapter was on hand and encouraged the Congressman to visit Hadassah Hospital which is a pioneer in medical research and an example of how Arab and Jewish doctors can cooperate to improve the health of patients of all races, religions and nationalities.

Chaka Fattah is married to NBC10 anchorwoman Renee Chenault-Fattah and has four children. He is now running for his 10th term in Congress and emphasized the value to the district of having a senior member of Congress on the Appropriations Committee. The Congressman was happy to get acquainted with his new constituents and promised to return after the election and continue the conversation at greater length.


Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Sgt. Robert Mansfield

The Republican challenger Robert Mansfield is a combat veteran having served thirteen years in the US Army and National Guard. His service was ended by trauma from an I.E.D. explosion. In a spirit of true bipartisanship he thanked Rep. Fattah for his dedication to funding research on traumatic brain injuries.

Mansfield has been a champion of adversity:

  • At birth he had to overcome a dependance on heroin he had acquired from his mother who used drugs during her pregnancy.
  • He  endured a tumultuous childhood in foster care.
  • He overcame kidney cancer.
  • And he suffered from the homelessness all too common to our returning veterans.

As a fervent member of the Episcopal Church, he expressed dismay at Christian groups boycotting Israel. For Sgt. Mansfield support for Israel is founded in the teachings of the Bible.

He fears that Obama is not taking the Iranian nuclear threat seriously and that Obama has agreed to negotiations with Iran. He says Iran is “four years closer” to making a bomb. He says that the US has sat idly by with ineffective sanctions. He recommended imposing “real sanctions like we had against South Africa”.

During the Question & Answer session, I commented that the sanctions are having a real economic effect on Iran, with the Iranian Rial losing 80% of its value in recent months with strikes and real unrest in the streets. I added that I didn’t remember the sanctions against South Africa as being so universal and so effective. (The biggest annual drop in the South African Rand was a drop of 34% in 1985.)

While Iran was said to be “months” away from a bomb when Obama took office, his administration is clearly responsible for the CIA working hand-in-hand with the Israeli Mossad to sabotage Iranian centrifuges, missiles and most recently computers. Meanwhile, Iranian physicists are dying in the streets of Tehran and this is not from the common cold. I concluded by asking specifically what additional steps would Mansfield recommend if he was in Congress? If he were Congressman or President, would he recommend an immediate tactical nuclear strike on the underground bunkers where the Iranian enrichment facilities are hidden?

Sgt. Mansfield pondered my question for fifteen seconds and then gave a one-word response: “Yes.”

Some of Mansfield’s other remarks ran afoul of the truth:

  • He repeated the discredited meme about Obama’s “apology tour”.
  • He warned that the bridge from Yemen to Somalia “to be completed by 2020” would strengthen al Qaeda. While such a bridge (The Bridge of Horns) was proposed, it is not under construction and has not been funded. The fanciful bridge would be 18 miles long and in order to avoid disrupting navigation it would have the longest suspension span in the world (3 miles long). The Saudi and Yemen government oppose the African refugees that such a bridge might bring to the region. Moreover, Yemen and Somalia are two of the poorest countries in the world, so a bridge connecting them would not be “a bridge to nowhere” but rather “a bridge from nowhere to nowhere”.

Photo: Richard Chaitt.

Jim Foster

Jim Foster is running as an independent although he had to win a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Election Commission in order to do so. He has published the Germantown Chronicle since 2009.

He spoke entirely about Philadelphia issues such as broken schools, cronyism, and pay-to-play. During the Question & Answer period several people tried to redirect the conversation towards questions of foreign policy or national domestic policy. He gave only the most general of answers, for example, “some extremists want no taxes at all, and some want a 97% tax rate for the wealthy. Whatever rate we pick, I just say I want accountability.”

He also mentioned that he “saw Israel as self-supporting and honest with a legitimate government, and Iran and others without one.”

He said he “would use all means to keep Iran from getting the means to make a bomb.”

He would then steer back to local Philadelphia politics. I almost got the impression that Foster was running for Mayor Nutter’s job, not Representative Fattah’s job.

Stu Bykofsky Candidates’ Comedy Night, 2012

The 22nd  annual Stu Bykofsky Candidates’ Comedy Night, a benefit for Variety, the children’s charity, was held this evening at Finnegan’s Wake.   Since this is primarily a political blog I didn’t take notes on the speakers who aren’t running for office.  As always, this is not intended to be an exact transcript, just rough notes I took at the event.  It would be impossible to capture every joke, especially the longer, more involved story jokes, but I made an effort to provide some idea of each candidate’s routine.  

Photo: Steven M. Falk, Philly.com

Details after the jump.

Text implies a direct joke, notes in brackets are condensations or gists.  Actions or extraneous activities are in italics, as are candidates’ names.  Read your local newspapers for more exact accounts of the event.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Tom Smith (R), candidate for Senate
Running against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D).

[Tom Smith was brave enough to go first as a stand-up comedian.  He had a clever slide show which featured a head-shot of Smith added to all the slides of stock or iconic photos.]

I am new to politics and most people in Philadelphia aren’t familiar with me.  My father died when I was 20 and I had to look after the family so I couldn’t go to college but I sent my daughters.  [shows a slide of what he would have looked like if he had gone – his face superimposed on someone wearing a college tshirt holding a beer mug].  

My wife is with me, as you can see I let her get a new dress for the event [American Gothic painting with Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s photos in it].  

I worked in a coal mine [Smith’s face on the front of Thomas the Tank Engine, pulling a load of coal].  

I had big dreams [his face added to a picture of the Beverly Hillbillies].  My wife and I adopted four children so a family could stay together.  

People say I am a Tea Party candidate but there are a lot of things about me you don’t know [his face added to an Occupy Pittsburgh group photo].


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Rep. Bob Brady (D), PA 1st Congressional District

[Congressman Bob Brady told a couple of jokes which we can’t repeat here. He made Stu Bykofsky the butt (pardon the pun) of one a “pee and poop joke.”  Another jokee was about an attorney going to a brothel.]

Incumbents do comedy every day, make fools of ourselves every day.  This is for the kids.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)

[Senator Bob Casey appeared in shirt-sleeves!  He made fun of himself for being dull, quoting verbatim a front page New York Times article which talked about Casey’s galloping eyebrows as the way in which he registers excitement.]

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D), PA 13th Congressional District, sent a surrogate, Neil Deegan.

Top reasons Allyson can’t be here tonight:

  • Still at PennDOT waiting for her voter id card
  • Getting new copy of the Congressional ladies’ room key made for Kathy Boockvar
  • Prepping Mayfair office to hand over to Bob Brady
  • Painting bike lane in front of Stu’s house
  • Getting mani pedi with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi
  • Measuring drapes for Corbett’s office
  • Looking at Pat Toomey’s office
  • Needed a haircut for the DNC.

Photo: Bonnie Squires

Kathleen Kane (D), candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney-General
Running against David Freed (R)

[jokes about her Irish heritage and her hometown of Scranton]
[joke about thinking Finnegan’s Wake was an actual funeral wake]
[joke about doctors]

In Scranton the obituaries are the Irish social pages.  People clip them out and put then on the refrigerator.   They often have headlines, like “101 Year Old Woman Dies Unexpectedly.”

I took my son to an Eagles game.  We saw empty seats up front and moved up to them.  They were next to an older man.  He told us he and his wife had season tickets for years but she died a few days ago.  I asked if a family member didn’t want to come with him.  “Oh, no,” he said, “they’re at the funeral.”


Photo: Bonnie Squires

George Badey, Democratic candidate for 7th Congressional District

[George Badey, who was raised in South Philadelphia and is an avowed Mummer, had a very funny routine.  Badey is the Democrat running against Republican incumbent  Congressman Pat Meehan.]

[told “the neighborhood I grew up in was so tough” jokes – it is now in Brady’s district]

I went to high school in South Philly.  Pat Meehan went to the Chestnut Academy.

Chris Christie is in the hospital.  He has that flesh eating bacteria.  He only has 13 years to live.

Fidel Castro’s successor will be his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro.

Bill Clinton and the Pope died but there was a mix up and Clinton went up and the Pope went down.  When the mix up was fixed and the Pope was going up and Clinton down they passed and the Pope told Clinton he was looking forward to meeting the Blessed Virgin.  Clinton said “You just missed her.”


Photo: Bonnie Squires

David Freed (R), candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney-General
Running against Kathleen Kane (D).

Thanks to Kathleen Kane for picking up the tab.
I went to college with Cecily Tynan.
Fan of Philly sports teams [joke about the 1996 Phillies being bad team].

People say I am too close to Gov. Corbett – he wrote my jokes.  [fakes a phone call from Corbett].  

Hello, Governor?  
Yes, Risa Vetri Ferman’s here — she’s sitting right next to me.  
No, she still won’t run for Attorney General.

[joke about Ed Rendell telling people the statue of Billy Penn is of him]

[calls Daily News columnist John Baer a gossip columnist]

[Photo: Dave Freed seated with Montgomery County D.A. Risa Furman.]


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Kathy Boockvar (D), candidate for PA 8th Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R).

I want to show that I can be funny on purpose and not just by accident.

I wanted to find a job more popular than being in Congress but the TSA didn’t have any opening and Elliott Spitzer already has a co-host.  

Things more popular than Congress right now:

  • Lawyers
  • Chick Fil A’s new branch at the Sea of
  • Gaililee
  • Paris Hilton
  • Porn
  • The IRS
  • Polygamy
  • The idea of being abducted by aliens
  • The oil industry
  • Bank of America
  • BP Oil during the Gulf oil spill

Photo: Bonnie Squires

John Featherman (R), candidate for PA 1st Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Bob Brady (D).

[John Featherman was very funny with jokes about being Jewish and his “mixed marriage” to an Asian woman].  

Two Chinese people had a white baby but everyone knows two Wongs don’t make a white.

A union friend wanted to find a whorehouse where the prostitutes got to keep more of the money than the madam.  They finally found one and the union friend asked for a pretty young blonde but the proprietor said he had to take 62 year old Ethel, because of seniority rules.

Comedian Joe Conklin

Intermission with comedian Joe Conklin who told some good jokes and did impressions of political figures.  He also gave a shout out to the girls from Club Risque and said they were the only ones there with bigger [breasts] than Bob Brady.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Rep. Pat Meehan (R), PA 7th Congressional District

[Congressman Pat Meehan, the Republican incumbent being challenged by Badey, also had a very funny routine.]

Stu thought the Variety Club was a dating service.

My opponent George Badey is a mummer.  He wants to go to Washington, wear satin pants, a feather boa and lipstick.  J. Edgar Hoover already did that.

Anthony Wiener got in trouble for sexting.  He was trying to decide whether or not to resign.  He was in, he was out, he was in, he was out, now he’s holding his own.  Bill Clinton oversaw Wiener’s wedding.  
When the scandal broke he called Clinton to apologize — for what, copyright infringement?

Three political figures were driving through Kansas and ended up in Oz.  [missed the name, possibly George W. Bush?] went looking for a heart, Joe Biden for a brain, and Bill Clinton said “Where’s Dorothy?”

There is an auction for a restaurant gift card which Emerald Capital bids more than the card is worth, then ups that bid when Stu includes a gift basket.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Dr. Manan Trivedi (PA), candidate in PA 6th Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach (R).

When I ran in 2010 I spoke at this event and told a lot of jokes about being an Indian-American.  I won’t do that this year.  [fakes a telephone call and answers in stereotypic Indian accent] “Dell Technical Support.  This is … Mike …. In …. Kansas City.”  

My wife is from a very traditional family.  When they heard I wouldn’t be a full-time doctor while I am running for office they asked for three chickens back.

Jim Gerlach and Paul Ryan work out together — they practice their Atlas Shrugged poses.

[spelling bee joke]

Unlike Todd Akin, I know when my time is up.

Special guest, comedian Steve Young tells jokes

Congressman Jim Gerlach, Republican, 6th Congressional District, sent surrogate Kori Walter, district director.

Mitt Romney bet me $10,000 that I wouldn’t do this.

[He told several jokes that fell flat and asked if the audience was drinking enough.  As he left the stage Stu told him you never blame the audience if your jokes don’t get a laugh, always use self-deprecating humor.]

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, Republican, 8th Congressional District

[Fitzpatrick was taking two of his daughters to college this weekend and so wasn’t sure he would be able to attend; a surrogate, Andre [did not catch last name], was there just in case, but Fitzpatrick told his own jokes]

One night in Washington a robber held me up and said “give me all your money.”  I told him I was a Congressman and he said  “In that case give me all my money.”

Is Mitt Romney here tonight?  Coming in I thought I saw a car with a dog carrier on top.”

[discusses his Irish heritage, family from county next to Limerick.  Says Limerick known for a particular kind of poem.  Tells three.  One about Paul Ryan has a line “grandma just must go.”  One about Romney being robotic but “I saw him cry when he sold his 3rd yacht.”  The last one is about Obama and says he will be a judge on American Idol next year.]

Jim Foster, Independent candidate in 2nd Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) and Robert Allen Mansfield, Jr. (R).

[Mostly talks about himself, jokes about Chaka Fattah, and says West Mt. Airy is Stepford on the Wissahickon]

Robert Mansfield, Republican candidate for 2nd Congressional District, sends surrogate Ned Green.
Running against incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) and Jim Foster.

[says he met Mansfield in the 1990’s on another political campaign, Mansfield was homeless then].  Says Mansfield isn’t there because he has a lot of injuries from being in Iraq and is seeing a brain specialist today.

Personal notes:
Smith, Casey, Schwartz/Deegan, Kane, Trivedi, and Boockvar did well.   I was surprised by the Republican candidates telling Romney/Paul jokes.  That seems unusual.

There were a lot of jokes/comments at Congressman Chaka Fattah’s expense.  That is because two years ago he was a presenter and gave an awful, mean-spirited rant.  He wasn’t there tonight.  This would have been an opportunity for him to do something self-deprecating and make a comeback but he didn’t.  (Hint:  There’s always the Star Trek, evil twin/goatee trick that Community has picked up on.)

It was nice to see two women on the stage.  Maybe one of these years Congresswoman Schwartz will join us in person?  Kathleen Kane’s routine had a homespun, Lake Woebegone feel to it.  Boockvar was a little edgier.

The girls from Club Risque paraded from one side of the room to the other about three times, which is the standard from the other years I’ve attended, but this year they were wearing clunky shoes and the sound was disruptive.  

Cross-posted from Above Average Jane. Photo Credit: Bonnie Squires.