BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Robert Allen Mansfield, 41, is becoming a tried-and-true veteran of uphill and unsuccessful political campaigns.
One reason is he is an underdog candidate as a Republican in a city where Democrats out-register Republicans eight to one. The other reason is his latest opponent, incumbent 2nd Dist. Democrat Congressman Chaka Fattah, is deeply entrenched and is considered a Washington funnel to Philadelphia for grants and scholarships. This campaign’s odds were almost as long against him as when he ran as an independent in the Corbett-Onorato gubernatorial clash.
But he was undaunted. He wanted to continue in the field of public service. “I had received an early honorable discharge from the Army based on medical reasons, felt I was still productive and could carry my own weight, and I wanted to test my ability against a Trojan,” he says.
He’s been battling cancer and seems to have won that war.
Mansfield is a veteran of 13 years of service in the military, earning the rank of Sergeant, seeing service in Iraq. Born and bred in North Philadelphia, he still calls Strawberry Mansion his home.
He’s been a Republican since he first registered, except for his run as an independent. Mansfield would have gone for a legislative seat, but pragmatically states, “That was literally an obstacle in itself. I couldn’t get enough Republican signatures to get on the ballot in that race. With Montgomery Co. involved, I knew I could get into contention on the ballot.”
Fattah got 89% of the vote. Mansfield received a bit over 9% with Jim Foster, an independent, scoring over 1.3%.
The primary lesson he learned from this campaign “was to make my friends early before you need them,” realizing a network of friends and connections would have helped him raise the kind of money needed to show voters there was an alternative.
“Our Constitution allows me to run for office, but doesn’t guarantee a win. But for that opportunity, I am grateful,” he says.
He’s not sure where his next steps will take him, but he intends to stay involved, either as a candidate or as a party official. Though he ran an intensive campaign, neither of the two ward leaders representing his 32nd Ward, who belong to different City Republican factions, reached out to him. He understands the difficulty facing Republicans in building up a representation among the voters in this city, which “is why I have to keep looking at the bigger picture.”
He continues, “We need to break the cycle of low expectations in this city. Democrat leadership takes its constituency for granted. We need to begin a real conversation with Democratic voters as to giving them a choice, they do not now have.”
Before that begins, he admits there is a need for the Republican Party “to get its act together. We face a District Attorney and Controller race and then a Mayor’s race. Do we have to go outside the party to get a Democrat to run for us? “We need to identify our candidates early, to give them a chance to raise money, to set up a campaign. We can’t call on a handful to become sacrificial lambs.”
Mansfield intends to begin a recruitment drive to find African Americans who understand they have a choice and “can actually benefit their families and friends by developing another choice in who runs their lives politically in this town.” Though he won’t admit to it, if he gathers a large flock, he could well become the first African American endorsed Republican candidate in the next Mayor’s race.