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Bob Brady exits, candidacy flood gates open in First Congressional District

The floodgates have opened to the First Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady's retirement announcement Wednesday triggered at least one new candidate to jump in the race. There are now five Democratic candidates vying to replace Brady in Congress and more expected to join what could be a crowded field.

The five declared Democratic First Congressional District candidates (Top left: Nina Ahmad; bottom left: Willie Singletary; Middle: Kevin Johnson; top right: Michele Lawrence; bottom right: Lindy Li.)
The five declared Democratic First Congressional District candidates (Top left: Nina Ahmad; bottom left: Willie Singletary; Middle: Kevin Johnson; top right: Michele Lawrence; bottom right: Lindy Li.)Read moreStaff and campaign photos

When Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady announced Wednesday that he won't stand for reelection this year, it instantly changed the race for Pennsylvania's First Congressional District.

The proof: A new candidate officially threw his hat in the ring hours after the incumbent took his out, and another politician said she is considering doing the same thing.

Campaign advisers for Kevin R. Johnson, a pastor and head of a workforce development group, told the Inquirer and Daily News that he is running in the Democratic primary for Brady's seat. He is one of five Democrats currently campaigning in the district.

The list is likely to grow. Political consultant Mark Nevins said the election is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any Democrat in the city who wants to run for Congress." Like many incumbents from districts in which one party is dominant, Brady has served in the House for decades.

"Whoever runs for this seat can probably stay there as long as she or he likes," said Nevins, assuming that "the First District stays more or less the same and remains a Democratic district."

That's not guaranteed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that the GOP-controlled state legislature must redraw the boundaries for the state's congressional districts, ruling the current map is unconstitutionally skewed toward Republicans.

"As soon as a person has been in office for a couple of terms, the cloak of incumbency starts to make them immune to challenges," Nevins said. "It's not a Philadelphia thing… That's just the nature of incumbency."

The other Democratic candidates in the First District include: Nina Ahmad, a former deputy mayor; Michele Lawrence, former regional president of Wells Fargo; Lindy Li, a former wealth manager with Morgan Stanley; and Willie Singletary, a former Traffic Court judge convicted of lying to federal investigators in a corruption case.

Ahmad held a news conference an hour after Brady's announcement. She was jubilant as she thanked him for his service.

"I think it's time for change. I think we need to bring some new ideas. I welcome all his supporters to come and listen to what I have to say and hopefully to support me," she said.

Ahmad announced her candidacy in November, long before rumors heated up that Brady would retire. But now that he will, she said, her chances of winning have improved.

Singletary, for his part, suggested that African American voters should coalesce around him.

"This is an opportunity for the black church, the black politicians, and the black leaders to come together and get behind one African American candidate that can represent our community," he said.

Lawrence, who also is African American, released a statement Wednesday thanking Brady for his service.

"He has proudly served … for 20 years and helped direct much-needed resources to the Delaware Valley," she said. "But my candidacy is not about Bob Brady. I intend to bring a new vision based on service, opportunities, and solutions to our community."

Nevins said that if the First District remains a minority-majority district in the redistricting process, race will likely be a factor.  

"There will be a healthy debate on whether the district should be represented by someone of color," Nevins said. "It will be an interesting component of the primary — what role does race play?"

Another candidate who is expected to announce soon is Richie Lazer, the city's deputy mayor for labor. He is expected to have the support of many of the city's building trades, a powerful political bloc.

WURD radio reported Wednesday that State Rep. Joanna McClinton said in an interview that she too is considering running.

With a wide-open primary, Nevins predicted, Philadelphia could see as many as a dozen Democratic candidates.

And the winner is likely to stay around for a while.