“How are you doing? I’m Anthony Hardy Williams and I’m running for mayor of Philadelphia.”
With that introductory line on loop, the state senator and oft-perceived front runner in the Democratic mayoral-primary field shook hands a posed for photos with a slew of Reading Terminal Market passersby seven hours before a live-television debate last week.
Some of the lunch-break crowd already recognized him from television commercials while others seized the opportunity to weigh in on education policy. (Word of the Ethics Board campaign-finance violations wouldn’t break for another day, so that didn’t come up during a half-hour visit.)
Sitting at a small table just feet from NinetyNine’s second-floor cubicle at WHYY two days later, Williams set aside 20 minutes for a one-on-one to talk about the week that was (and more, including an underlying sense of coverage concerns).
99: What are the public, or reporters like me, failing to pay enough attention to?
TW: I don’t know if it’s fair, but I’ve heard the comment that the candidates are underwhelming.
I think that the way campaigns have been run in the past make that [the impression]. We don’t have vast pots of money [to advertise], so that portion is sort of negated. How you win, it’s sort of scattered instead of going door-to-door. It’s more targeted, data-driven now. So, it’s lower key, but I do believe that the substance, what the candidates are talking about, is as in-depth as ever.
[Former Mayor] Frank Rizzo wasn’t more in-depth than anyone else. I can go through down list of people that I’ve seen run for mayor and I don’t think they’re any less impressive or more impressive.
If the issue is personality, I’ve got a lot of it. The process has changed, and I think the media is expecting something that’s just change. That’s not fair or unfair. That’s just the reality.
99: Does reduced retail campaigning change things?
TW: It does for me. I’ve been around for a while; I’m a hybrid: old-school/new-school.
The truth is that that works so I’m a ward leader, but the party structure operates differently in primaries for mayor than they did in the past.
I do like interacting with people, so that frustrates me. If I’m walking through a community, they’re going to tell me to knock on those 10 doors instead of 30 because ‘those 10 doors are where voters are; the other 20 may or may not vote.’ You have to ration your time efficiently.
The fundraising process is more challenging because you have to raise it by rules that are new [and] prevent ‘you knowing him and him knowing him’ so if you’re all together, all of a sudden something’s going on.
That makes you spend more time in a room calling people on the phone as opposed to actually interacting with voters which I thought was the most important thing.
I actually don’t mind all these forums because it gives the public a better insight on how you want to govern. I’ve heard people complain about it, but I’ve actually learned a lot from them.
99: They seem very niche-ified.
AW: I give the current mayor high grades in a lot of areas, but one of the things people will say is that his reach on areas that he’s comfortable with is very deep, but his reach on things that he’s not necessarily comfortable with is not necessarily deep.
What [these forums do] is force you to realize that if you’re going to be mayor of this city, you feel more accessible and connected. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to solve the problem; it’s just that people want to be heard about their issues. You have to speak their language.
99: Tell me if I’m wrong here: Jim Kenney’s endorsement in Northwest Philly on Monday, Lynne Abraham fainting on stage during Tuesday’s debate and your Ethics Board issue on Wednesday, all told, they would have to have changed how this race is playing out. Has this week in general ramped things up?
AW: No, I don’t think so.
Whether we like it or not, you’re still walking through neighborhoods and people don’t know there’s a mayor’s race, and I don’t think they’re going to know there’s a mayor’s race [for] maybe two more weeks, three and a half weeks out. All this positioning, all these issues, they’re certainly ones that that press and certain constituencies follow, but this week hasn’t driven the needle.
[The Ethics Board issue] was an honest disagreement over how we viewed the process. That said, there will be people who don’t like me who will say, ‘Boom.’ People who like me won’t even know what the hell it is. And there will be people who will be angry about the Kenney endorsement, and there are, I’ve heard from them, so there may be some backlash from people who see this in racial terms.
The debate is a little different because it was on TV and people saw it. The other stuff, the endorsements, the ethics, they’ll be written about in the paper and people who follow it will see it.
When I walk in to my local barbershop, they’re not talking about the Ethics Board or the Northwest [endorsement]. They’re talking about ‘How ya doing?’ Same thing is happening with Jim Kenney wherever he’s going too.
I do think, and I will push you on, some people did come to me and ask about the Northwest. Beyond politics, the consequence is politics. People in that area are independent voters and I expect we’ll do well.
What I’m shocked at, well, surprised at, not the politics, the coverage, they went straight to race. I was like ‘wow.’ Because some elected black people support an elected white person that they have a relationship with, that translates into changing the racial formula?
I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as ‘he’s the labor guy, I’m the black guy and she’s the prosecutor.’ It’s not as simple as that.
99: Is that the line you see: Three candidates with a shot and three without?
AW: That’s what you guys keep writing about, so I guess it is! Polling would suggest those are the strongest campaigns currently but there’s six weeks left. I think we’ll see if somebody slips and falls again, not literally, in some other fashion.
99: What do you make of the dustup regarding Doug Oliver’s comments at the Al Dia forum? Did you pick up on it then?
AW: I picked up on it when he said it. I think it’s unfortunate phrasing. I agree with him when he says he didn’t mean it. But if somebody else said it, who was of a different ethnic background, they would be taken to task. If Lynne or Jim said that, there would be a push back to their candidacy from the African American community. I do like Doug. He’s a good guy. But he got a little ahead of himself.