Strange state of the Philly mayor’s race

    Within six months, we’ll know who the Democratic nominee for mayor of Philadelphia is, and in my countless years of covering Philly politics (honestly, I’d rather not count them), I’ve never seen a mayor’s race this muddled, this late in the game.


    Not only do we not know who the candidates will be, we don’t know who some of the key players behind the candidates will be, and just what they’ll do.

    City Council President Darrell Clarke is still doing his “maybe-in, maybe-not” thing, which freezes critical union support that will go his way if he’s in, and somewhere else if he isn’t. In a strange interview with the Inquirer’s Chris Hepp last week, Clarke bared his ambivalence for all to see. I call it strange because political pros will tell you the one thing you can’t be as a candidate is ambivalent.

    Candidates who want to win need to be fundraising like crazy now because the city’s campaign finance limits apply on an annual basis. They’ll need to get prime donors to give the maximum before Dec. 31.

    Beyond that, you need to have a policy team boning up on all the issues you can stumble over when the campaign is under way.  You also need a media consultant, a communications team, pollsters if you can afford them, and an experienced campaign manager to make it all mesh.

    If Clarke gets in, City Controller Alan Butkovitz stays out. If Clarke announces he’s out, Butkovitz has to make a decision soon about whether he can get this thing together quickly enough to have a go.

    A growing cast

    Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham put an impressive announcement event together last week and followed with a poll showing she leads the potential field, including Clarke. I believe she has a lead, but I wonder if she can raise the money she’ll need to keep it and finish ahead.

    And while state Sen. Anthony Williams is in, we don’t know whether the pro-school voucher investment bankers who put $5 million into his 2010 gubernatorial run are prepared to do  it again. If so, they’ll have to mount an independent expenditure effort, since it’s illegal under the city’s campaign finance law to make million-dollar contributions.

    And we don’t know who else will weigh in with big-money independent expenditure operations. I’m hearing a business group is thinking about it, and it’s widely assumed that Local 98 of the electricians union will throw some serious money into the election.

    State Rep. Dwight Evans is toying with getting in, and history shows he’s not afraid to pull the trigger: He has two runs for mayor, one for governor, and another for lieutenant governor on his resume.

    And it remains to be seen whether former city solicitor Ken Trujillo will put a couple million of his own into the contest. If he does, the law provides for a doubling of the contribution limits for everybody else.

    Former economic development official Terry Gillen has announced and is raising money. City Councilman Jim Kenney and former Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr. haven’t given up on the idea either.

    Fattah leaves, Nutter takes his place?

    There is one scenario I will throw some cold water on. A piece in the Philadelphia Public Record put out the idea that Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah “is reportedly ready to tender his resignation, albeit reluctantly.” The piece then posits that Mayor Michael Nutter would leave office to take Fattah’s place, making Clarke the mayor and allowing him to run for the office next year as an incumbent.

    Two things to say about this. First, while Fattah is likely facing a heap of legal trouble, I can find nobody who claims to know Fattah plans to leave. Further, when I called his office, he got on the phone to assure me there was nothing to the story, and that he plans to stay in Congress for another five terms.

    Second, I don’t think Nutter would abandon the mayor’s office to go Congress. More to the point, if Fattah left and a special election were called, the district’s Democratic ward leaders would choose the party’s nominee, and there’s no way they’d pick Nutter even if he did leave City Hall.

    So one thing I’m sure we won’t see is an early departure by Mayor Nutter. It’s hard to rule out almost anything else.


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