Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) in 2012.

Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) in 2012.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Congressman Fattah’s defeat in primary is loss for science community

The research community lost a key supporter yesterday with the defeat of Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) in a Democratic primary race in his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–area district. Fattah, who faces a federal trial next month for ethics transgressions, had a keen interest in neuroscience and helped catalyze the high-profile Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) project, a multiagency effort to study the brain.

Fattah, 59, has represented a west Philadelphia district for the past 22 years. He will go on trial in May on bribery and fraud charges involving misuse of a $1 million campaign loan when he ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007. Fattah has denied any wrongdoing, but his indictment contributed to his loss to state Representative Dwight Evans.

His departure will end a long record of support for science. As the chief Democrat on a House of Representatives spending panel that oversees the National Science Foundation and several other science agencies, Fattah backed funding for basic research and science education. He also pushed for the creation of a White House interagency neuroscience working group. One result was the $300 million BRAIN project, which President Barack Obama championed.

“Fattah was a strong and passionate voice for the importance of paying attention to neuroscience,” says Philip Rubin, a cognitive scientist at the Yale University–affiliated Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut, a former White House science office official who led the neuroscience working group.

Fattah stepped down as ranking member of the commerce, justice, science, and related agencies appropriations subcommittee when he was indicted last July. His support for science has won him accolades from several science organizations. Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs for the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C., commented: “Rep. Fattah has been one of the strongest advocates in Congress for the nation's investment in basic research. Research universities and all those concerned about America's global leadership in science and innovation appreciate the contribution he has made and will miss his leadership.”