DECADES AGO, Chaka Fattah's mother was so scared that one of her six sons would succumb to the street culture gutting the city that she opened her West Philly home to gang members.
Sister Falaka Fattah's House of Umoja eventually offered shelter, counseling, and job training to thousands of boys who'd have landed in prison or the grave if they'd continued to hang out with the wrong crowd.
She knew the power of peers on a young man's decisions. Change the peers, change the kid, change the trajectory of his life.
Her son became a U.S. Congressman by avoiding the street, but it turns out that Chaka Fattah couldn't stay away from bad kids - Herbert Vederman, Robert Brand, Karen Nicholas, and Bonnie Bowser. It came to a head yesterday when all five of them were convicted of federal corruption charges.
Including, for Fattah, the theft of federal dollars that should've been used to advance the education of kids. Instead, the self-styled champion of learning lined his pockets with it.
So Fattah, despite his saint of a mother's best efforts, is likely headed to prison - potentially for decades. And we can chisel his name into the granite list of recent Pennsylvania pols, appointees, and judges who fleeced the public trust when greed got the better of them.
But it was more than greed that laid Fattah low. It was a refusal to live within the means of the life he made for himself, and to be candid about his limitations.
Fattah needed money to pay the Drexel tuition of his jackass of a son, Chaka Fattah Jr., who's currently doing five years in the slammer for fraud. He needed money for the Poconos vacation house he bought with his wife, former NBC10 news anchor Renee Chenault-Fattah. He needed money to pay off campaign loans.
Others in a financial crunch take on second or third jobs to make ends meet. Or they sell their assets - houses, cars, stocks - to clear their debts.
Fattah? He sold his power and influence, because he thought it was his to sell.
It wasn't. It belonged to the people who elected him every two years since 1994 to represent their best interests, not his own worst ones.
It would be easy - but wrong - for Fattah apologists to blame his downfall on the never-ending grind of courting rich donors to fund campaigns. Not that the process isn't soul-sucking.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) has spoken about how, as a newly elected House member in 2014, he was told by Republican leaders that he needed to raise $18,000 a day to support his next election. Democrats get similar directives, said Jolly, who calls the practice a "bipartisan shakedown."
The shakedown requires gobs of time - up to 30 hours a week, Jolly said - hanging out with and sucking up to rich folks who, in turn, use their bucks to buy access to power.
But Fattah didn't just suck up to rich folks. He became friends with them. After a while, his paltry $174,000 salary must've made him feel awfully self-conscious about all it couldn't buy him outright.
That's what happens when you lose sight of blessings your constituents would die for - like a healthy paycheck, a pension, and cushy benefits that, for the rest of us, went the way of the typewriter a long time ago.
You'd think that marrying the well-paid Chenault-Fattah would have kept the congressman feeling flush enough to just say no to the illegal stuff. According to Philadelphia magazine, Chenault-Fattah's salary was $950,000 in 2007. Lord knows how high it had climbed by the time she left NBC10 four months ago.
None of it was enough, and that's not about greed but about character.
A person of character knows himself, knows his limits, and accepts the consequences of his decisions. And when he doesn't like the consequences, he does the hard, honorable work of changing so that the consequences will change, too.
Instead, Fattah found peers with whom he could betray the public trust. He's heading to jail, maybe for the rest of his life, his legacy shredded, his two young daughters without at an at-home dad to guide them to and through adulthood.
Wrong crowd, Congressman.