The future of politics - and Bob Brady - in Philadelphia

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady covers the ears of a young rally participant as he uses adult language to describe the Republican members of Congress trying to repeal Obamacare at a January 2017 rally.

The discussion about the “future of Philly politics” was more than halfway over before anyone mentioned U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

The reform-minded, tuned-in crowd of more than 200 tittered.

It was not just because his name has surfaced in a federal investigation. One speaker in the panel discussion last Thursday is a potential challenger to Brady, who has been chairman of the Democratic City Committee since 1986 and a member of the U.S. House since 1998.

Another potential challenger was in the front rows of the audience.

Dan Pearson, a board member for the Philadelphia Federation of Young Republicans, praised Brady for his ability to get white and black ward leaders working together. But he knocked Brady for not pushing his party to select better candidates and for lacking vision for the city.

“His time is passed,” Pearson said.

Another panelist, state Rep. Jared Solomon, pushed back, noting that Brady was instrumental in bringing to Philadelphia the 2016 Democratic National Convention and in brokering settlements of transit strikes over the years. Solomon, a Democrat, said Philadelphia Republicans blame his party for the city’s woes rather than doing something to help fix them.

“The Republicans in this city do not organize, do not message well, do not register voters,” Solomon said. “And it is certainly easier to blame the Democrats because we have outpaced you year after year.”

Sitting next to Pearson and Solomon was Omar Woodard, whose face ran through an amazing gamut of expressions while his mouth uttered not a single word about Brady.

Woodard, a nonprofit executive considering a 2018 Democratic primary election challenge to Brady, just soaked it all up. Later, Woodard said he expects to announce his decision by early October.

“There are two questions here: Can I raise $1 million? And if I have to quit my job, can I afford to do that?” Woodard said.

Woodard is clearly gauging whether Brady is newly vulnerable due to a federal investigation made public last month.

In that case, the former campaign manager for a 2012 primary challenger to Brady admitted filing federal reports that did not disclose $90,000 the challenger received from Brady’s campaign.

The campaign manager, Carolyn Cavaness, told the feds the money was meant to encourage Brady’s challenger, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore, to drop out of the race. Brady’s lawyer said the money paid for a detailed poll Moore’s campaign had commissioned and to bring Cavaness on as a subcontractor to a political consultant.

Woodard is not alone in mulling a challenge.

Lindy Li, who was in the audience, had shared on social media earlier that day a Chinese television program that spent some time talking about her 2018 congressional ambitions.

Li planned to run in the Seventh District (in the suburbs) in 2016 but switched to the Sixth District (also in the suburbs) before dropping out of the primary amid a challenge to her eligibility to be on the ballot.

She lives in Philadelphia in the Second District, held by U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans.

Li on Friday said she knows which district she will run in next year. She just won’t say. For now.

Consider this exchange, between Li and a guy playing a ukelele in City Hall’s courtyard, filmed in May for the Chinese television show.

“I’m running for Congress,” Li told the guy.

“Oh, OK. What district are you going for?” he asked.

“A Philadelphia congressional seat,” Li answered.

Brady, as is his way, appears completely unconcerned about all this.

A spokesman said Brady intends to seek reelection next year and heard from Li “as recently as last month” that she will be supporting him.