Williams gets Inquirer nod in Philly mayor’s race, amid some controversy

    State Sen. Anthony Williams has won the coveted endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer in the Democratic mayoral primary.

    Titled, “Williams, narrowly,” the editorial announcing the Williams pick expresses some ambivalence about the choice. It says only two of the six candidates in the primary, Williams and former City Councilman Jim Kenney, have a chance to win, and that “the conspicuous support of an array of wealthy interests…makes for serious reservations about both.”

    It ultimately concludes that “because the unions backing Kenney already wield too much influence, the Inquirer‘s choice for the Democratic nomination is Anthony Williams.”

    A tough call

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    After the endorsement appeared online yesterday, word began circulating among Kenney’s supporters that the members of the editorial board favored Kenney, but that they’d been overruled by the paper’s owner and publisher, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.

    Nina Ahmad, the president of the of the Philadelphia chapter of NOW, said in a statement, “we were very disappointed to see that [the] Inquirer Editorial Board once again bent to the will of their billionaire owner and his support for Tony Williams.”

    Sources familiar with the process have confirmed to me that after its candidate interviews, the editorial board reached a consensus to endorse Kenney.

    But Inquirer editor Bill Marimow told me it was he, not Lenfest who made the call. “The decision was mine, and Gerry had nothing to do with it,” Marimow said in a phone interview yesterday.

    Marimow recalled that Lenfest decided that neither the Inquirer nor Daily News would endorse in the governor’s race last fall, a move that drew criticism because Lenfest had been a major contributor to incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

    “I talked with him at length about the board’s desire to endorse in the mayor’s race,” Marimow told me. “I said I would participate, and I did.”

    Kenney’s supporters have noted that in November, 2013, Lenfest gave the maximum permissible contribution of $2,900 to the Believe Again PAC, formed to advance Williams’ mayoral ambitions.

    This matters

    The Inquirer endorsement is a valuable prize in the mayors race not just because it holds some sway with readers, but because the chosen candidate can use it in broadcast ads, mailings, speeches and robocalls for the rest of the race.

    And the editorial’s criticisms of Kenney and his union ties can also be quoted in negative ads by Williams or his supporters.

    As I noted in a piece Friday, the only crew with the resources to wage a significant attack campaign against Kenney is American Cities, the super PAC heavily funded by three wealthy pro-school choice donors from the suburbs.

    If that group attacks Kenney, it’s likely Kenney and his super PAC allies in the building trades and the teachers unions will attack Williams for his association with the three partners of Susquehanna International Group.

    Williams’ campaign spokeswoman Barbara Grant said in a statement that Kenney and his allies will learn that both the Inquirer editorial board and voters don’t think that Kenney’s union supporters “need a seat in the mayor’s office.”

    “The Inquirer followed the same process in which all the great newspapers of this nation engage,” Grant said. “We place a great deal of confidence in the integrity of the Inquirer Editorial Board and are extremely pleased to have their endorsement”.

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