He resigned from local office amid a sexual harassment scandal and went to prison for lying to the FBI. His office was seen as so corrupt that voters abolished it. Now he wants a fresh start — in Congress.
"Even though I made some mistakes, I'm not a mistake," Willie Singletary, a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, says in a video announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the First Congressional District in 2018. "And just like many in our community, we all could use a fresh start."
Singletary, now 36, was one of several judges charged in 2013 in a ticket-fixing scheme that prosecutors said benefited the "politically and socially connected," and cost the state and city hundreds of thousands of dollars in unrealized fines.
A federal jury in 2014 found Singletary not guilty of the public corruption charges but convicted him of lying to federal investigators. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison and was released in November 2016. Traffic Court was abolished that year by voters in a statewide ballot measure; moving violations were absorbed by Municipal Court.
Singletary and the other former judges are appealing their convictions.
Singletary, a pastor who took the bench in 2008, is asking for a second chance at elective office under the slogan "A Fresh Start for Pennsylvania." The First District seat is held by U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, the longtime chairman of Philadelphia's Democratic City Committee.
"Yes, I've made some mistakes, some of which I am not proud of," Singletary says in the campaign video. "And for those who are affected by my mistakes, [I] truly, truly apologize to you today."
His lawyer, William J. Brennan, added: "He was found not guilty of every single corruption charge. Marion Barry was the mayor of D.C. He was on film smoking a crack pipe, and he was elected mayor. So I think voters are forgiving people."
In his video, Singletary notes that he rose from poverty — his father was in and out of prison and his mother had an addiction. He grew up in West Philadelphia with 21 siblings, six of whom were also named Willie.
Nothing in the law prohibits Singletary, as a convicted felon, from running for Congress. The Constitution sets three qualifications for the House of Representatives: 25 years or older, a citizen for at least seven years, and live in the state to be represented.
But Singletary may face other hurdles. For starters, he resigned from office in 2012 after a female court employee filed a complaint saying Singletary had shown her photos of his genitals. "Do you like that?" he asked her, according to the Judicial Conduct Board.
Asked if he had made amends with the woman, Singletary said Wednesday that the matter had been resolved.
"My gift took me to a place where my character couldn't keep me," Singletary said Wednesday, referring to his time on the bench. "I made some decisions that were not so good. I also made some mistakes. I've apologized for that. I don't want to be stuck in my past, and neither should my past hinder me from my future."
Singletary noted that Brady has served in Congress for two decades. "We thank him for his service," he said, adding: "You don't have the same car you drove 20 years ago."
Singletary, of Southwest Philadelphia, said he wants to raise the minimum wage, make housing more affordable, and find more funding for the city's schools.
Brady declined to comment. Nina Ahmad, Mayor Kenney's former deputy mayor for public engagement, has also declared her candidacy for the primary in the First District.