Terry Gillen appears to be serious about running for mayor. The former economic development official for Mayors Ed Rendell and Michael Nutter held a fundraiser at the Residences at Ritz Carlton last Monday.
If Gillen jumps in the Democratic primary field, she’ll be the first credible woman candidate for the post since the late Happy Fernandez ran in 1999.
Standing outside Gillen’s reception I could hear much of her remarks to supporters. I didn’t hear her talk about the importance of electing women. The crowd was mostly women and, I suspect, didn’t need a lot of convincing on that point.
She did want to make the case that she can win. Gillen comes to the race having never held elective office (she ran unsuccessfully for state representative and City Council) and without a lot of name recognition or conventional political backing.
I asked her about that when she stepped outside for a chat with me, and she said a lot of new, independent-minded people have moved into the city in recent years. She noted that Michael Nutter came from the back of the pack in the 2007 mayor’s race.
“A lot of Philadelphians think the best person doesn’t win, or the smartest person doesn’t win, or the most qualified person doesn’t win, but that’s just not true,” Gillen said. “Time and time again, we keep seeing that the voters are stepping up, thinking independently, that they’re not doing what somebody tells them, and those are the voters I want to go after.”
It’s an interesting proposition. Most of those I talk to in the political world don’t see it happening for Gillen, and it’s true she’d have to start practically from scratch introducing herself to voters and raising money. When Nutter ran for mayor in 2007, he had nearly four terms as a visible city councilman on his resume. Still, the conventional wisdom was that he stood little chance against the likes of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah and millionaire Tom Knox.
What does Gillen have going for her? She a political veteran who knows city government and can make a coherent speech. Being the only woman in the field is surely worth something — if she can raise enough to make herself known, though I think in the end you have to be a good candidate to win, no matter what the gender or racial politics are.
And there’s this: In a multi-candidate field, you don’t need 50 percent to win, and a lot of funny things can happen. I like to remind people that Nutter won the 2007 mayoral primary with 37 percent of the vote, which amounted to less than 14 percent of registered Democrats.
Others who might be in the Democratic mayoral field include include state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, City Councilman Jim Kenney, attorney Ken Trujillo, and former City Councilman Frank Rizzo, Jr.