BY TONY WEST/Itâ€™s too early for formal announcements for the 2015 mayoral race. But vigorous testing of the waters has begun.
An important step toward the Mayorâ€™s office was taken last week when State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.) convened a cross-section of city leaders from different walks of life to consider uniting behind an agenda â€“ as well as a standard-bearer.
The meeting, held at the City Line Hilton in Wynnefield, also introduced the Senatorâ€™s new high-powered consultant Jeremy Bird of 270 Strategies. Bird, a young veteran of Obama online and ground operations in several states in 2008 and 2012, would be overkill for Williamsâ€™ only announced campaign right now: reelection to the State Senate this fall (he is unopposed).
Although the meeting was closed to the press, Williams and several participants talked with reporters afterwards.
Among the attendees were former mayoral candidates Tom Knox and George Burrell, Laborersâ€™ District Council Business Mgr. Ryan Boyer, business mogul Kenny Gamble, insider attorney and former Rizzo loyalist Marty Weinberg, and senatorial colleague Shirley Kitchen (D-N. Phila.) along with three Council Members: the 2nd Dist.â€™s Kenyatta Johnson, the 3rd Dist.â€™s Jannie Blackwell and the 4th Dist.â€™s Curtis Jones. Some arrived already enthusiastically on board a Williams mayoral run; others were likely just kicking the tires at this point.
Nevertheless the meeting raises the bar for other mayoral hopefuls â€“ Alan Butkovitz, Jim Kenney, Lynne Abraham, Darrell Clarke, Terri Gillen, Frank Rizzo, Jr., Nelson Diaz and Ken Trujillo among them. With the Democratsâ€™ mayoral primary now less than one year away, any of them who wants a shot must start assembling potential teams of their own to keep up with Williams.
Williams showed particular strength in rallying his West Philadelphia base at the meeting. Although he has run citywide before (actually statewide, for Governor in 2010), he has not had regular exposure in a citywide job as some other mayoral prospects have.
But Williams holds one advantage over many of his possible rivals: As a state employee, he does not have to quit his current job to run for city office.
A campaign needs a vision for the administration it seeks to put in place. It needs both a policy thrust and a personal skill set. Williams argued the most-pressing issue before Philadelphia is its high poverty rate. He would like to develop a platform with poverty at its bulls-eye.
Weinberg, who counts himself committed, said the meeting went well. â€œWe introduced supporters to his campaign experts and they were very well received,â€ he said.
The meeting was itself a demonstration of the management style Williams would seek to bring to City Hall. â€œYou need someone who can build coalitions. Thatâ€™s the point of this room,â€ Williams noted. Williams said his leadership style is based on an understanding that â€œeven though you may have an excellent idea, there are other good ideas out there.â€
City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who has a lock on his seat, is not about to jeopardize his position by announcing this early his decision to run for Mayor.
But that doesnâ€™t stop his many friends from trying to convince him to go. They have produced an interesting poll showing the mayoral race is wide open and the Controller is in a good position to win, should he declare and enter the race.
Public Policy Polling, a Democrat-leaning firm directed by Tom Jensen, reports: â€œA PPP survey of the 2015 Philadelphia mayoral race finds itâ€™s wide open, but that Alan Butkovitz starts out well liked by voters in the city and is well positioned to grow his support as voters learn more about him.
â€œKey findings from the survey include: Only three potential candidates have double-digit support for Mayor right now: Darrell Clarke at 14%, Alan Butkovitz at 12%, Frank Rizzo Jr. at 10%.
â€œCandidates tested included James Kenney at 7%, Milton Street at 4%. Other possible candidates show Tony Williams at 2%, and Ken Trujillo at 1%; 41% of voters are undecided.
â€œButkovitz leads the field among white voters (with 18% to 12% for Rizzo and James Kenney), with Hispanic voters (with 18% to 11% for Milton Street), and with the crucial voting bloc of seniors 65+ (with 15% to 14% for Clarke.)
â€œIn a 2-way hypothetical match-up between Alan Butkovitz and Tony Williams, Butkovitz demonstrates twice the early support of Williams, 22% to 11 %.
â€œOnce voters learn more about Alan Butkovitz, he is likely to see a further increase in his support. After respondents were informed about some of the things Butkovitz has done in his work as City Controller and before that in the legislature, Butkovitz took the lead with 19% to 12% for Clarke, with no one else polling in double digits.
â€œButkovitz starts out popular among voters with an opinion about him. Thirty-six percent rate him favorably to only 13% who have an unfavorable opinion. Butkovitz has a positive net favorability rating with every single voter group tracked in the poll of Democrats.
â€œWilliams has an overall net favorable rating of 28% favorable with 15% viewing him unfavorably. However, Williams has image problems among key groups of voters. While Williams is well liked among Hispanic voters (49 favorable, 16 unfavorable) he fails to convert them at the ballot box placing last in the seven-way among Hispanic voters, and in two-way race Butkovitz crushes Williams among Hispanic voters 24% to 3%.
â€œOverall this initial poll found a wide-open race, but one where Butkovitz will clearly be a top contender and has a lot more room to grow as voters become more informed about his record.â€
PPP surveyed 916 likely voters on May 27 and 28 on behalf of Friends of Alan Butkovitz. The surveyâ€™s margin of error is +/-3.2%.