On Monday evening, Penn Democrats brought Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah to campus to provide his insight on how he legislated amidst Washington's political gridlock.
Fattah was the youngest person ever elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives — an election he won by 58 votes out of around 10,000 cast.
Fattah is currently serving in his 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the representative for Penn’s district and is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Chair of the Congressional Urban Caucus.
Fattah originally ran for Congress in 1991 but wasn’t elected until the 1994 election cycle. “The only problem was I got elected in the middle of a Republican landslide,” Fattah said. For the first time in 40 years, majority control in the House transferred from Democrats to Republicans the year Fattah was first elected. “I got [to Congress] in an inauspicious circumstance but nonetheless, I have been [here] for 10 terms,” he said.
Fattah had his early success in Congress as the architect of the nation’s largest and most successful college readiness and access program — Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. GEAR UP has received more than $4 billion in federal funding for middle and high school students.
“My number one priority is neu roscience,” Fattah said on Monday, referring to his continuing advocacy for neuroscience research. The Fattah Neuroscience Initiative, signed by President Barack Obama, is a policy initiative that supports more federal collaboration on scientific projects that relate to the brain.
Fattah began the initiative effort to highlight the role of this important area of science because he understood that neuroscience and brain diseases could affect every American family.
When Fattah was asked what he would do to move Philadelphia forward economically , he said he has “a little different accent” in approaching the problem.
“Rather than trying to get people to come here, I am very interested in how we try to keep the people who are here,” he said. “If we create opportunities for [Philadelphia’s] young people, it is much more likely they will make their home here and they will raise their families here,” he said. He created College Opportunity Resources for Education to help Philadelphia high school students to have better access to colleges, one step toward retaining the city’s human resources.
“As a native Philadelphian, I’ve grown up in Congressman Fattah’s district and now I attend college in that same district, so tonight’s event meant a lot to me,” Wharton junior Amiyr Jackson, the president of Penn Democrats, said. “I believe it is important to fulfill your civic duties and taking the time to engage in dialogue with a current member of Congress, like I had the opportunity to do tonight, is a step in the right direction. “
Fattah earned a Master’s degree in Governmental Administration from the Fels Institute of Government at Penn in 1986. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.