That low rumble you hear is Philadelphia getting ready to elect a mayor


Don’t look now, but it’s coming. On Nov. 5 it will emerge at full roar.

Political etiquette demands that chatter about the coming Philadelphia mayor’s race stay muted until the Nov. 4 votes for governor and Congress.

But once that’s out of the way, the sprint towards next spring will begin. Philly being a one-party town, everyone knows the big game here is the Democratic primary in May.

For now, the open seat has attracted a field of possible candidates that is Kentucky Derby-big, but generally deemed to be about as inspiring as the Phillies’ batting order.

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This contrasts with 2007, when a powerhouse lineup sought to supplant John Street – two congressmen, a powerful Harrisburg lawmaker, a cocky millionaire auditioning for the Michael Bloomberg role, and a high-profile councilman.

By the way, the smart money saw that last guy, Michael Nutter, as the dark house, behind congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, state power broker Dwight Evans, and moneybags Tom Knox.

Yet Nutter, running on ideas and ethics, surged to win easily. That seemed to promise a brighter day in Philly politics. Now, nearly eight years later, it all looks so different.

Top of mind right now are Fattah’s woes. They trace back to that 2007 election, when he ran a tone-deaf campaign and finished fourth. Now, one of his advisers in that race has pleaded guilty essentially to stealing federal dollars to pay back an illegal campaign loan. Fattah is, clear as day, the “Elected Official A” named by federal prosecutors as enmeshed in these deeds.

For all the good Evans has done, he, too, is diminished. His fellow House Democrats booted him out of his leadership role. A nonprofit he founded got pummeled in a state audit and now faces a federal probe.

And Nutter – well, he has indeed run a clean administration and done some very good things. But his stated top priority, education, is a disaster zone. He seems increasingly dispirited by the demands of this very tough job. As one prominent citizen said to me recently, staring from his Center City office down at City Hall, “Every morning I expect to see they’ve just hung a ‘gone fishin” sign on that thing.”

Oddly, Brady – derided by some as a mascot for old-school politics – is the one among the five who’s added luster. He’s the region’s go-to emergency negotiator, the guy who brokers deals to fix broken situations.

Time disappoints and time surprises. That 2007 field today looks far less grand than it once did.

Philadelphians can only hope the opposite happens in 2015, that what now looks like a gaggle of dwarves produces at least one giant.

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