Nina Ahmad, Mayor Kenney's deputy mayor for public engagement, quit her City Hall job Thursday to challenge U.S. Rep. Bob Brady in the May 2018 Democratic primary.
That marks another dip in a roller-coaster year for Brady, chairman of the city's Democratic Party, who had been under federal scrutiny in a case that snared his two top political aides.
Ahmad, 58, said she told Kenney she was resigning but they did not discuss her pending candidacy or Brady, whom she has met a few times.
"I don't even know if he knows who I am," she said.
Turns out, he doesn't.
"I don't know her," Brady said while traveling to Washington Thursday morning. "All I know is Mayor Kenney has told me time and time again he's supporting me." A spokesman for the mayor's political operation confirmed that backing.
Even with the lingering federal probe, Brady, 72, remains a formidable foe. He has been chairman of the local party for three decades and has served in the U.S. House since 1998.
Brady's most recent campaign finance report listed $597,083 in the bank as of Sept. 30.
Ahmad said she and her husband, real estate developer Ahsan Nasratullah, are talking about sinking into her campaign an amount close to what Brady has now to become immediately competitive.
"I'm going to put my money where my mouth is," she said. "If I'm going to do this, it's going to hurt me."
Ahmad, who said she will make diversity and inclusion the focus of her campaign, does not see Brady as particularly vulnerable as a politician.
"Regardless of where he is in his political life, I just feel we haven't had a progressive voice here from this region," she said. "People are ready for a change."
A federal grand jury on Oct. 24 indicted Ken Smukler and Don "D.A." Jones, Brady's longtime political team, accusing them of using their businesses to shield a $90,000 payment to a 2012 primary challenger, former Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore, to retire his campaign debt.
Moore, Brady's last real primary challenger, and his campaign manager have pleaded guilty to filing false campaign reports and are cooperating with prosecutors.
Brady has insisted that the $90,000 paid for a poll Moore had commissioned and for Jones to hire Moore's former campaign manager. An agreement Brady had signed to extend the deadline for prosecutors to file charges on possible violations expired Sunday.
Ahmad and her husband were born in the country that became Bangladesh in 1971, in a violent cultural clash that helped shape her worldview. She moved to the U.S. in 1980, came to Philadelphia three years later to attend the University of Pennsylvania and became a citizen in 1989.
The new candidate lives in East Mount Airy with her husband and two daughters, in the Second District represented by freshman U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans. Her home sits about four and a half miles outside Brady's First District.
Candidates for the U.S. House must live in the state they hope to represent and be a U.S. citizen for at least seven years. Ahmad said she would "absolutely" move into the district if she is elected.
The First Congressional District, mostly hugs the Delaware River from Chester in Delaware County to Northeast Philadelphia. Seventy-three percent of its registered voters are Democrats, with 15 percent registered as Republicans, and 12 percent listed as unaffiliated or members of minor parties.
Its demographics are far more diverse. Whites account for 46.5 percent of the residents while African Americans are 35.5 percent and Asians are 7 percent. Latinos, who can be of different races, make up 18 percent of the district's population.
A molecular biologist who earned a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, Ahmad worked for 10 years as a researcher at Wills Eye Hospital.
While this is Ahmad's first campaign, she has spent several years in the public eye.
As chairwoman of the Mayor's Commission on Asian American Affairs, appointed by then-Mayor Michael Nutter in 2009, Ahmad called for monthly reports on immigrant education after 30 Asian students were beaten in 2010 by a large group of mostly African American students at South Philadelphia High School.
She was also appointed by President Obama in 2014 to serve on the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders.
In 2015 she served as an adviser for Kenney's campaign on issues in Asian-immigrant neighborhoods.
She also served as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women and helped lead protests in 2015 against then-District Attorney Seth Williams for not firing three top prosecutors who sent or received pornographic, sexist or racist emails while previously working for the state Attorney General's Office.
Kenney, while announcing after his 2015 election that Ahmad would serve as a deputy mayor, said, "She'll actually make you do things you don't want to do" to explain why she was suited for the job.