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A 2d Phila. also-ran gets reward in House

Fattah will head the Urban Caucus. Earlier, Brady was given a post. Both lost mayoral bids.

WASHINGTON - Being a loyal Democratic congressman and a failed candidate for mayor of Philadelphia means never having to say you're sorry - that you didn't get a consolation prize.

Rep. Chaka Fattah has been named chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - the second time in six months that she has rewarded an also-ran in the city's Democratic mayoral primary.

In May, Pelosi named Philadelphia Rep. Robert A. Brady chairman of the House Administration Committee, a position often referred to as "mayor of Capitol Hill."

Fattah's new job might be described as the mayor of mayors, as the caucus seeks to attract members from the nation's largest metropolitan areas. The goal is to develop legislation to address challenges facing urban communities.

In a recent interview, Fattah spoke about his new role, as well as his unsuccessful run for mayor.

"There is no urban policy in the country today," he said. "The White House doesn't have one. You couldn't quote from one. As lawmakers, there is an opportunity to create one, and I'm excited about the opportunity."

Fattah said his new post could benefit his home city.

"A case has to be made that cities like Philadelphia have a role to play in the country's future," he said, "so there should be a national investment in our cities."

On Friday, Fattah invited House members from both parties to join the caucus and has received three takers so far. He said that urban education would be a top priority and that other issues would include public safety, employment, education and transportation.

"The last thing we need is a caucus focused on rhetoric," Fattah said, suggesting that it should be an activist group.

The caucus chair comes with a modest staff allowance.

In a statement, Pelosi said Fattah "has a proven record of creating workable solutions to some of the most challenging problems facing America's cities. . . . I am confident that he will lead the way for a new direction in American urban policy."

Pelosi cited Fattah's "signature" legislation, the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP), which assists students in academic preparation for college.

In May, Fattah served as cochair of Pelosi's Summit on America's Children.

Pelosi, who comes from a prominent political family in Baltimore, did not address a question about her current fondness for lawmakers from Philadelphia. Both Fattah and Brady are loyal party stalwarts in the House.

In picking Fattah, however, Pelosi found a job that hasn't existed for several years.

The Congressional Urban Caucus has been dormant since 2003, when it had Democratic and Republican cochairs. Pelosi decided to revive the organization, naming Fattah as the single chairman and urging him to make it a bipartisan group. There are scores of such organizations in the House, ranging from the Addiction Caucus to the Zero-AMT Caucus.

Fattah said he had already spoken with Mayor-elect Michael Nutter about the revitalized caucus and how it might help benefit Philadelphia.

"I've always had a great relationship with him," Fattah said of the man who vanquished the field in the Democratic primary.

Asked how he went from first in the early polling to a fourth-place finish in the election, Fattah conceded that he failed to connect with many voters.

"If voters had a better understanding of the work that I had done and the work I was laying out to do - it was really the failing in that regard that short-circuited it a little bit," he said. "Also, in a multicandidate field, there are so many moving parts that it is beyond any one candidate to control it."

Fattah said there was nothing about the campaign he would have done differently. It was vital, he said, to focus on the challenges facing the city.

"If we really want to transform the city, we have to deal with the people in the shadows of these shiny new buildings," Fattah said.

"When you're running a campaign based on the poorest people in the city, you can't expect that the most powerful people in the city will align themselves with that cause," he added.

Fattah, who is in the middle of his seventh congressional term, said supporters told him they wanted him to stay in Washington.

"Some supporters of mine will say that's why they didn't vote for me," he said. "Also, possibly people decided that Nutter as a councilman knew more about city government.

"I didn't need a job - I have one," Fattah said with a grin. "It would have been a pay cut."