Brian Gordon: In the battle to unseat Fattah
In many ways, Brian Gordon is an underdog in competitive Democratic primary to unseat veteran Congressman Chaka Fattah.
His political following is mostly in Lower Merion, where he was elected as the township’s commissioner in 2005. And while the PA-2 congressional district straddles urban-suburban lines, Lower Merion only carries about ten percent of the vote.
In Philadelphia, like it or not, race also plays a big role in elections. The majority-Black district hasn’t had a white congressperson since 1963. Moreover, there’s been something of an early coronation for the politically powerful State Rep. Dwight Evans. With a long legislative history, high-up allies, and a growing checkbook, critics say Evans has good odds to oust the embattled Fattah.
In the only poll conducted so far in the race — which, full disclosure, was commissioned by the Evans campaign — Gordon was the third favorite behind Evans and Fattah, just ahead of State Rep. Brian Sims and gun control advocate Dan Muroff.
But on the issues, Gordon should still have strong resonance with the district’s voters.
As an attorney and a township commissioner, he co-drafted anti-discrimination ordinances, stood on the side of unions, and took on major civil rights cases. When the racial tensions exploded between the Black community and the Lower Merion police, Gordon confronted the issue head on. He's also the only candidate, to my knowledge, making an anti-war stump speech on the campaign trail.
Read our interview with Gordon here, and check out Q&As with the other PA-2 candidates as well. Answers have edited and arranged for clarity.
Why did you get into the race?
The three issues I’m working hardest to resolve are violence in the neighborhood, equality of opportunity, and economic development.
You’ve done a lot of legal work around discrimination and diversity. If myself or another reporter were to look into your own hiring record, would we see that you practice what you preach?
Yep. My secretary for many years was African American and from North Philadelphia. I also had a wonderful young man working with me for years through high school and college. It was a sort of mentor relationship. He recently graduated from Rutgers Camden Law School and was admitted to the PA-NJ Bar as a lawyer. Currently, my primary campaign staff is made up of four African Americans and three Caucasians.
How have you dealt with the issue of race in Lower Merion?
When I learned, as the chair of the police committee, that the we had a troubled relationship between Lower Merion police and the African American community, I got to work on that issue by creating an open dialogue. I invited Black clergy, rabbis, ministers and other leaders to a meeting. Close to 200 people showed up. It was the first in a series of meetings where members of the African American community felt comfortable coming forward and testifying about their experiences, one after another.
And those testimonies required recognition of the problem.
So the police got to work right away. The best way to eliminate racism, differential treatment and racial profiling is for police to get to know neighbors, and vice versa. Once you recognize the humanity of the other in both directions, a lot of problems get solved.
You wrote a proposal about foreign policy issues — something that your Democratic opponents have not been addressing on the campaign trail. How important is that to your campaign?
When I’m out on the campaign trail, if I’m trying to do a really compressed stump speech, I tell people that I'm pro-education, that I’m an environmentalist, a lawyer who has done a lot of work in civil rights, and that I’m anti-war.
Voters from virtually everywhere in the district are anti-war. They’re fatigued. There’s a consensus of opinion without fail that the Iraq War was an extremely costly foreign policy disaster. There was a man I met in Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia who summed up my feelings pretty succinctly when he said “We spent a trillion dollars on a war we didn’t have to fight, and now you want to tell me that we don’t have enough money for education? Come on.”
What's your relationship with labor unions been like over the years?
I went to the Cornell School of Labor Relations and worked as a union-side labor lawyer for a year before switching to general practice and civil rights. So my career kind of shifted. I’ve been pro-labor for many years.
So how well do you know John Dougherty? I hear he’s gotten a few people elected in the past.
I wish I knew him better. [Laughs.] He did call my office last week and said that he’s not endorsing anyone right now, as I understand it. The situation is fluid. Obviously an endorsement from John Dougherty would be a huge boost to the campaign.
Some of your opponents in this primary have strong backgrounds in the city itself, while you have a strong background working in suburban segment of this district. Can that be turned into an advantage to you?
No. Lower Merion has about ten percent of the vote. I’m well-known there, and I’ll probably pick up some segment of it. But that’s exactly why I’ve spent considerable amounts of my time campaigning in West and North Philadelphia, Latino North Philadelphia.
So how do you see your path to victory?
The situation in the second congressional district is still fluid. There’s disenchantment and concern about Fattah. He's a good person. Record’s not that strong, according to people I’ve met. Actually...I’m not going to say anything bad.
Do you know Dwight Evans?
Yeah, I supported Dwight Evans in the past. I threw a fundraiser for him in my office when he was running for governor in the 90s.
In Evans’ poll, which his campaign paid for, your behind him and Fattah, but ahead of Rep. Brian Sims. What's life on the campaign trail like right now?
[Laughs.] I’m at the top of the second tier. It’s a short campaign cycle. The best thing for me to do is to get out in the neighborhoods as much or more than I’ve been doing. This is a grassroots campaign — barbershop to barbershop, salon to salon, restaurant to restaurant, going into the neighborhoods. I’m a fan of the [Joe] Sestak campaign where he walked across Pennsylvania pieces at a time. Be out there.