THE BATTLE in Harrisburg over school vouchers has placed state Rep. James Roebuck Jr. in political peril to a newcomer with well-heeled campaign contributors.
Roebuck, 67, who has represented West Philly's 188th District since 1985, says he is using his post as the ranking Democrat on the state House Education Committee to stymie legislation that would allow tax dollars to be used to pay for private-school tuition.
He is being challenged in Tuesday's primary election by Fatimah Muhammad, 27, who favors the voucher plan and tells a compelling story about being homeless as a child and about how education improved her life.
A political-action committee for Students First PA, a pro-voucher group, gave Muhammad $25,000 in February. It also gave $12,000 last month to a newly formed PAC, Public Education Excellence, which has been hammering Roebuck with mailers that attack his record on education.
Muhammad, endorsed Wednesday by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity, said her childhood helped shape her thinking on public policy.
The Rev. Terrence Griffith, president of the Black Clergy, said he ignored Roebuck's request for support this year, in part because of the voucher issue. Griffith's group got $6,000 last month from Students First.
Roebuck has received $5,000 from the public-school teachers' union in Philadelphia and $15,000 from the state public-school teachers' union. He will put that money to work soon when his campaign launches robo-calls and campaign literature from former Gov. Ed Rendell that will cite their work together in Harrisburg on state education policy.
Roebuck accuses state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, of West Philly, of targeting him for a primary challenge. Williams, who has close ties with Students First PA and who ran for governor in 2010 using a pro-voucher platform, denies that claim.
Williams' former chief of staff is now executive director of Students First PA.