Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto is known for taking on divisive cases, like his fight to stop the city from removing a Christopher Columbus statue from a South Philadelphia park. He kicked off a long-shot campaign for the U.S. Senate on Thursday night with the same playbook.

Bochetto, a Republican, rallied supporters at the police union’s headquarters, where he was introduced by the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia police officer who Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering in the 1980s.

“I just cannot within me sit back and watch what’s going on in this country,” Bochetto told a crowd of about 60 at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 in Northeast Philadelphia. “The assaults that are taking place on law enforcement. The idea that anyone wants to defund the police is such insanity that I just don’t understand it. I can’t take it. I’m not going to sit back.”

Bochetto, 69, joins a crowded Republican primary field against better-known and better-funded candidates. Being little known by voters, especially outside heavily Democratic Philadelphia, means Bochetto is facing an uphill battle against rivals that include multimillionaires who are already pouring their own money into TV ads.

The race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is one of the most competitive in the country, and will help determine which party controls the chamber — and the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

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A Brooklyn native who grew up in an orphanage before he was adopted, Bochetto came to Philadelphia for Temple Law School in 1975, and briefly ran for mayor in 1999.

John McNesby, the FOP president, said Friday that his union is only supposed to make endorsements in local elections, leaving state and federal races to the national office. But McNesby said he couldn’t refuse after Maureen Faulkner asked him to back Bochetto, who along with the FOP, has helped the widow fight to keep Abu-Jamal imprisoned through appeals.

A former activist and journalist, Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence, and while incarcerated he became a polarizing international figure for his criticism of the criminal justice system. For backers of the police, support for Abu-Jamal, who has lost several appeals to overturn his conviction, show the criminal justice reform movement is misguided.

“She asked us to come together to support somebody who has been helping her,” McNesby said. “I’ve known George Bochetto for years. I know that George put a lot of effort into supporting the police, but what he’s done for one of our close friends and one of our fallen heroes’ wife is unbelievable.”

Maureen Faulkner said Bochetto reached out to her after she came to believe that District Attorney Larry Krasner isn’t doing enough to fight Abu-Jamal’s appeals.

“He called me several years ago and offered to help me when I was at one of my lowest times,” Maureen Faulkner said of Bochetto. “He said, ‘Maureen, I’m here for you, I’m going to help you, I’m going to stand behind you, and this man is never getting out of prison.’ ”