When state Sen. Anthony Williams kicked off of his mayoral campaign yesterday, the event was richly stocked with those in the city’s political class who want to be around a winner.
I’m talking about lawyers, fundraisers, communications people, political consultants, aspiring operatives and elected officials who smell money, contracts, jobs and influence in the cause.
Because everybody knows that if you’re going to get something from backing the winner, you want to be in early, not jumping onboard at the last minute.
The fortune seekers joined a large crowd of Williams’ friends and family at the Independence Visitor Center to hear the senator deliver a passionate speech about … nothing.
Williams offered bromides about battling special interests, rejecting old ways of doing business, and overcoming differences of class, race and neighborhood.
The groundbreaking theme was “One Philadelphia,” a message accompanied by a striking lack of specifics on anything.
“I don’t want to be the mayor for just one part of town. I want to lift up every part of town,” Williams declared, adding later on the subject of law enforcement, “let me be clear: one Philadelphia means a city that stops the practice of pitting cops against citizens and citizens against cops.”
And who, exactly, is for that practice?
The burden of front running
I’m being harsh, maybe. It’s too much to expect a fully developed platform for governance in a campaign announcement.
But we do need to hear some vision for the future and a rationale for your candidacy. We need to know that you’re not running simply because you can.
Williams ran for governor in 2010 in a campaign largely funded by three rich boosters of school choice. Shortly after that, he announced he’d run for state auditor general in 2012. Never happened.
Now the mayor’s race offers another opportunity, and many among the city’s power elite see him as a winner mostly because of racial arithmetic. As of now, he’s the only well-known African-American running in a city where patterns of racial identification in voting are strong (though not as strong as they used to be).
But voters casting ballots for the top job want to see that you really want it, and that you have something to say.
Being a vessel for people who can fund your campaign is not enough, especially in an age when city contribution limits make it harder for the powerful to have their way.
Williams was asked about the lack of specificity in his speech last night, and he said while he has a public record of policy positions, he was also going to spend time in neighborhoods listening to citizens’ ideas and priorities to help shape his platform.
“It’s not going to be the Tony Williams show. It’s going to be the Philadelphia show,” he said.
Another nice turn of phrase. But we need a leader, not just a listener. We need to hear what Williams thinks about school choice, city tax policy, stop-and-frisk policing, the PGW sale controversy and more.
“One Philadelphia” is a great slogan. But it’s not enough.