The lawyer fighting to keep South Philly’s Columbus statue is running for Senate

George Bochetto, a Philadelphia attorney who has taken on high-profile cultural battles, including fighting to preserve the Christopher Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza, is seeking more direct influence on public debates: He’s launching a campaign for U.S. Senate.

Bochetto has filed paperwork to run and is planning a formal announcement Tuesday to begin his campaign for the Republican nomination in one of the country’s most critical Senate races, one that could help determine control of the chamber and the fate of much of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

“I am very, very concerned, perhaps even frightened by what’s going on in our country and the collision course that we are on with disaster, and we need to have people who have strong convictions to stand up,” Bochetto said in a telephone interview.

He pointed to rising crime, school closures, and education plans that he claimed “teach children that their parents are nothing but racists.”

And the longtime Philadelphian attacked his Republican rivals as fake, running down the list of opponents and questioning their true ties to the state or public images.

“We do not need pretenders,” said Bochetto, a one-time Pennsylvania boxing commissioner under Gov. Tom Ridge. “We’ve got enough pretenders on both sides of the aisle.”

» READ MORE: Philadelphia settles with Columbus statue supporters, promises ‘public process’ before any removal

A longtime trial lawyer who runs his own firm, Bochetto, 69, has frequently joined high-profile cultural flashpoints, battling what he called “woke” liberals.

Along with defending the Columbus statue, he is leading a lawsuit against Mayor Jim Kenney arguing that the city discriminated against Italian Americans, including by changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He worked with groups critical of the removal of the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo and worked with Maureen Faulkner to try to disqualify District Attorney Larry Krasner from appeals involving Mumia Abu-Jamal, the man convicted of killing Faulkner’s husband, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. (The petition was dismissed by the state Supreme Court.)

Bochetto’s firm also wrote some of the legal briefs defending former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bochetto’s firm focused on the First Amendment arguments, work that he pointed out later won praise from legal scholar Alan Dershowitz.

He’s likely facing a steep climb in the primary.

The Republican race already includes several multimillionaires who have been spending heavily on television, and others who have been campaigning for months. They include Mehmet Oz, the celebrity surgeon known as “Dr. Oz”; hedge fund manager David McCormick, who is expected to soon formally launch his campaign and has already been advertising; Carla Sands, the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark; Montgomery County developer Jeff Bartos; and conservative commentator Kathy Barnette. Incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t seeking reelection.

Bochetto, unlike many Republican candidates around the country, acknowledged President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. He also said he would have voted to certify Pennsylvania’s 2020 election result, as 92 senators did. The other declared Republicans in the Pennsylvania race have declined to say how they’d have voted.

» READ MORE: We asked GOP Senate candidates if they would have backed Pa.’s 2020 election results. They wouldn’t say.

“I think that there is no substantial evidence to demonstrate that the election was stolen,” Bochetto said. But he said that in voting to certify the results, he would have insisted on “an actual, real investigation” into “electoral integrity.”

The election was reviewed by Trump’s own justice department, which found no evidence of widespread fraud, and has since been reviewed by state-level recounts, media outlets, and legislative reviews without any revelations that could have changed the result.

Bochetto said he would put $1 million of his own money into his campaign. He was born in Brooklyn and grew up in an orphanage until he was adopted, and came to Philadelphia for Temple Law School in 1975. He briefly ran for mayor in 1999.

Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.