Days after Inquirer endorses Williams, its editorial-page editor takes candidate to task

 Dueling opinions. (Screen grabs from the Next Mayor partnership's Philly.com)

Dueling opinions. (Screen grabs from the Next Mayor partnership's Philly.com)

Let’s travel back to a simpler time called “Sunday.”

It was then that the Philadelphia Inquirer “narrowly” endorsed the mayoral candidacy of one Anthony Hardy Williams over opponent Jim Kenney. To wit:

For two men representing different facets of the city — the passionate Irish Catholic son of a firefighter from East Passyunk; the even-keeled son of an African American politician from Cobbs Creek — they are a remarkably close match.

But the balance of power in City Hall isn’t so close. Because the unions backing Kenney already wield too much influence, The Inquirer’s choice for the Democratic nomination is Anthony Williams.

Yet this endorsement would not be as simple as just another entry on NinetyNine’s regularly updated Mayoral-Race Endorsement-Tracker, for WHYY’s Dave Davies learned of some related behind-the-scenes drama.

Namely, that refers to the fact that “word began circulating among Kenney’s supporters that the members of the editorial board favored Kenney, but that they’d been overruled by the paper’s owner and publisher, H.F. ‘Gerry’ Lenfest.”

Outcry and critical emails, of course, ensued so Davies got to work as he is wont to do.

Inquirer editor Bill Marimow told me it was he, not Lenfest who made the call. “The decision was mine, and Gerry had nothing to do with it,” Marimow said in a phone interview.

Marimow recalled that Lenfest decided that neither the Inquirer nor Daily News would endorse in the governor’s race last fall, a move that drew criticism because Lenfest had been a major contributor to incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“I talked with him at length about the board’s desire to endorse in the mayor’s race,” Marimow told me. “I said I would participate, and I did.”

Kenney’s supporters have noted that in November, 2013, Lenfest gave the maximum permissible contribution of $2,900 to the Believe Again PAC, formed to advance Williams’ mayoral ambitions.

This being election season and all, Davies’ Off Mic post drew some attention, but it seemed to fade into the background as Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday passed by.

But today is Thursday, and on Thursday, Inquirer Editorial Page Editor Harold Jackson weighed in with a 590-word, issue-based lambasting of the candidate his newspaper endorsed.

Please read Jackson’s “Under the Sun” post before we go on.

Done? Ok. Here are some of the highlights:

If Anthony Hardy Williams loses the Philadelphia mayor’s race, he shouldn’t blame it on negative advertising or being outspent. He should blame it on having a rudderless campaign that never distinguished itself on any issue.

Go on.

How are voters supposed to vote for someone who acts like he’s embarrassed to be associated with a cause he has championed for years? It’s not as if Williams can run away from his past, not with his mayoral campaign being heavily financed by three rich guys who have made it their mission to promote the creation of more charters in Pennsylvania. Bala Cynwyd investment moguls Joel Greenberg, Arthur Dantchik, and Jeff Yass also put a lot of money into Williams’ unsuccessful run for governor in 2010. …

[A]s a state senator, he has been a staunch advocate for publicly paid vouchers to be used for private education. His record is well known, so why even attempt to act as if it doesn’t exist?

Ouch.

Anything else?

Williams may yet win the election. As always, the results will depend on which candidate does the best job of getting his or her supporters to the polls. None of the candidates has energized the electorate. But Williams had a chance to do that.

He could have said people want to criticize me because I dare to offer an alternative to bad schools for Philadelphia’s children.

He could have pointed to his legislative record on school choice to argue that his mission is to give more children a chance to succeed.

He might not have been able to withstand counter arguments that he wants to abandon the children stuck in traditional public schools.

But his unwillingness to even try isn’t a quality I would want in my mayor.

No, these sure ain’t the words of someone who checked the endorse-Williams box. But the fact that these words appeared in the same section where an endorse-Williams treatise ran just days earlier does not speak to intra-office wordfare, or serve as evidence of some sort of conspiratorial shenanigans.

In fact, this dichotomy explains the very nature of a newspaper’s opinion pages (i.e. opinions, we have a few). I emailed Jackson about it earlier Thursday afternoon, and here’s what he had to say:

The editorial, like all editorials, was the institutional position of The Inquirer.

My blog posts and columns represent my personal point of view, which may or may not match an editorial’s.

On Williams, my blog post wasn’t an endorsement of anyone; it was a personal observation.

You can quote me on that. And thanks for asking.

Will do. And, you’re quite welcome.

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