Not just on some levels, but all the way. On Tuesday, Congressman Chaka Fattah was convicted on all 22 counts of bribery, money laundering, racketeering, and fraud in a corruption trial.
It’s a local embarrassment that the once revered black congressman who represents my district in Pennsylvania fell so low. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. But the verdict still hit hard Tuesday afternoon, and only one word kept coming out: "Damn.”
Damn isn’t just a mild epithet on this occasion. It’s the kind of colloquial expression blacks use with a level of emphasis that suggests things are really messed up. As much as I’m not a fan of elected officials getting caught up in corruption, this had a certain level of sentimental disappointment.
When I first came to Philly in 2010, Fattah was the second elected official I got to meet after then-Mayor Michael Nutter. I was so ecstatic at the time because he was one of the highest ranking black political figures in the state. Fattah was like the LeBron of West Philadelphia – everybody was captivated by him.
The fellow Penn alum appeared to have the kind of wisdom and ethics that influenced me to believe that this was the kind of lineage that paved the way for President Obama. The Fattahs were Philadelphia royalty. When I interned at NBC 10 while attending Penn, I got to see his wife Renee Chenault-Fattah get camera ready in the evening before reporting the news.
But the more I began to pursue my journalism career, the more I began to hear things. Those thoughts became rumors, that would lead to investigations, indictments, and, now, convictions. Renee lost her legendary anchoring career behind this turmoil, and Fattah became another fallen black political powerhouse.
But their personal tragedy is just as upsetting on the vulnerable working class communities he was elected to represent as well. Thousands of taxpayers’ dollars were misused as a way to fuel corruption. No matter how many will try to spin it, it’s obvious that Fattah most likely abused his influence and longstanding power in the region.
Many insiders project that he might get 15-20 years behind bars for his crimes. He is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 4. Despite initially announcing he would resign the day before his sentencing, Fattah has decided to give up his seat in Congress immediately.
As some politicians are beginning to chime in and pass judgment, I sincerely ask all of you to check
yourselves. I, too, agree that Fattah leaving now is the best decision; if there is to be a special election, Democratic primary winner Dwight Evans deserves the seat uncontested.
That being said, perhaps the rest of you elected officials still unscathed by the skeletons in your own closet should think twice before casting the first stone.
It would be foolish of me to assume that the crimes Fattah has been found guilty of aren't still going on in local politics. Sure, not everyone gets caught redhanded -- but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that when one strong tree stumbles, several branches might fall as a result.
In other words, Philly elected officials start cleaning out your own office of possible misconduct before planning to weigh in on the unfortunate travesty of another.