The word from Pennsylvania Society weekend, the annual Manhattan schmooze-fest of Keystone State politicians: The Philadelphia mayoral field grows from four to five; everybody wonders what to expect from the state’s new governor; and the state’s biggest political brawl in 2015 may be a judicial election.
I usually prowl the receptions and fundraisers of Pennsylvania Society weekend looking for insight and gossip more than stories. But, sometimes, one just throws itself in front of me.
I hadn’t been at the Waldorf Astoria hotel for a half an hour when I saw former Philadelphia Judge Nelson Diaz, who’s been talking to people about a mayoral run. I asked him if he was going to do it, expecting the polite brush-off.
Instead he put his hand on my shoulder like we were old buddies, and said yes, he’s running and will announce Jan. 15.
The buzz in political circles has been that Diaz didn’t like the idea of attorney Ken Trujillo being seen as the city’s Latino candidate, but when Diaz talked about his plans, there was none of that.
It was all about the importance of fixing the city’s schools with educational reform, not just more money, and about his history as an administrative judge reforming the city’s court system and serving as general counsel of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington.
Diaz is another mayoral candidate (the fifth to announce, so far) who’s known to insiders and not voters. Most think he’ll have a hard to time raising the money and political support to compete seriously. We’ll see.
Meanwhile, I saw Trujillo everywhere, and he invited me stop by the lobby of the Waldorf at 8 Saturday morning, where the largely Spanish language radio station he owns would be broadcasting live. He said if I stopped in I’d hear him, and they’d interview me, too.
He wasn’t kidding. I stopped by, and host and VJ Martinez and a panel of analysts spoke with us in Spanish and, in my case, mostly English.
Having covered Trujillo when he was a city solicitor years ago, I noticed that he’s upped his game as a public speaker. He had a pretty good stump speech down, and I noticed that when he was asked in Spanish about being an inspiration to the city’s Latino community, he went out of his way to say he wasn’t running as a Latino candidate, but as somebody who plans to represent the whole city.
He also told me that he’s spending a chunk of every day making fundraising calls, even in New York. That’s what a serious candidate does, and it reminded of me of Michael Nutter in 2006, steadily taking on that tedious, entirely un-public task for months, so he’d have the resources to make his move at the right moment in the campaign.
I saw the other announced candidates , Lynne Abraham, Terry Gillen and Anthony Williams, making the rounds and shaking hands. None had formal events in New York, which is an awfully expensive place to throw anything.
To run or not to run
And the one guy who could drastically alter the mayor’s race by jumping in, City Council President Darrell Clarke, was also a ubiquitous presence and had a Manhattan fundraiser (as did Trujillo).
When I saw Clarke Friday afternoon, I told him that, you know, I had to ask: Was he by chance ready to give us an answer this weekend?
His response seemed instructive. Every politician who’s regularly asked about running for office and isn’t ready to say so has a couple of jocular, non-responsive lines ready to go – like, “You’ll be the first to know” or “Stay tuned” or “I have to keep you guys guessing.”
But Clarke seemed so uncomfortable with the question that he didn’t say anything. He gestured toward an aide and said his people were telling him they had to go. Which reinforces my gut feeling that Clarke just doesn’t want to be the public figure a mayor has to be. But I’m often wrong.
The guv and the supremes
Gov.-elect Tom Wolf was in much demand, the subject of crushing attention and endless speculation. He gave a couple of speeches that were well received, but gave little hint about what he would seek from the legislature next year.
When he stopped to talk with a gaggle of reporters, he stuck to generalities. He didn’t mean to be evasive, he said, but he’s going to have to work some things out before making policy pronouncements.
Knowing Wolf has made the rounds at Pennsylvania Society before, I asked what it was like to attend as governor-elect. He paused a second, smiled and said, “They all know who I am now.”
The place was also crawling with judicial candidates. You wouldn’t recognize most of their names, but this fall, I promise you will.
We’ll elect three new state Supreme Court justices this year, and the party that wins two of three will have a better shot at controlling legislative redistricting in 2020. So expect lots of national money and plenty of ads attacking candidates as sleaze-bag lawyers, softies on crime, probably horse thieves, too.
Hide the kids.