McElhatton acknowledges that while union and ward leader support is valuable, “It’s not dispositive. There is a certain perception from folks that the political apparatus will determine who is going to be the district attorney. But I think we’ve seen in the last couple of years — that didn’t work in the mayor’s race. Michael Nutter was not the endorsed candidate.”
Ah, the Mayor. Now, here’s where the district attorney’s race could actually get very, very interesting. Because while most of the political chattering class agrees that an Abraham endorsement will add some luster to the duly chosen campaign (though Pratt thinks it will help “only around the margins”), the subject of the Mayor’s backing is quite another matter. Most City Hall types feel McElhatton has the inside track to a Nutter nod; the Mayor has a longer and deeper relationship with him than with any of the others, going back to their time together in City Council in the early ’90s. Doug Oliver, the Mayor’s spokesman, says that while Hizzoner has met with all four major candidates, he “doesn’t intend to make any endorsements anytime soon.” But he stops short of saying Nutter won’t endorse at all.
And so the same question that applies to Abraham applies here: What does a Nutter knighting actually get you? Embattled by the city budget crisis and battered by his fiasco trying to close city libraries and pools, Nutter is on his political heels these days, making his endorsement not quite the anointing it would have been a year ago. A lot also depends on whether Nutter and city Democratic chairman Bob Brady seal a pact to back the same horse. “Where is Brady on this?” asks one veteran of the city political wars. “If Brady is with Dan McCaffrey — and Brady was with Seamus — then this is a horse of a different color. If Brady has an interest in McCaffrey, then he’s a serious candidate and McElhatton isn’t.” But there are all kinds of potential tentacles attached to that. Most city political junkies don’t envision Brady and Nutter backing different candidates, which may bode well for McElhatton after all. “Brady,” this same veteran says, “is not looking for a fight with Nutter.”
EVERYONE THINKS THE race will be close, down to the wire. And despite the election’s snoozy veneer, the stakes are higher than one might think: Both Arlen Specter and Ed Rendell held the office, and look at where their political careers went. There’s also the small fact that, cynics aside, the new D.A. may actually have something to do with whether our city is safer over the next four years. Penn criminology professor Lawrence Sherman, who has consulted with Williams on his community prosecution idea, says that if it works, it could absolutely galvanize people in high-crime neighborhoods to care again, to begin to take back ownership of their blocks. “The D.A. sets priorities,” Sherman says. “One who takes a long-term view, who brings what I call ‘value-added thinking’ to the table, can absolutely make a difference.”