Those looking for clues to the city’s big political guessing game — how many of the six quasi-announced Democratic mayoral candidates will still be candidates on primary day next spring — might want to turn their attention from events in Philly to what happens in Washington and Harrisburg in the coming months. Two of the mayoral aspirants, after all — front-runner Congressman Chaka Fattah and State Representative Dwight Evans — are career lawmakers who entered the mayoral race in part because they’ve dead-ended in their current jobs. But a national wave of anti-Republican sentiment could restore Democratic majorities in their respective legislative bodies and, most important, the seniority each man has accumulated. If that happens, it would be far more appealing for them to stay where they are. In fact, no one may be rooting for George W. Bush’s approval rating to continue falling as much as Councilman Michael Nutter.
The decision to stay or go might be toughest for Evans. If the Democrats win Pennsylvania’s House, he’d be in line to become chairman of the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful jobs in Harrisburg. If he left, a colleague from Westmoreland County would take the post. “At that point, you would see a lot of pressure being placed on Dwight. You would see civic leaders say, ‘For the good of the city … ’” speculates political consultant Ken Smukler. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Rendell weighed in. From Dwight’s perspective, you can do more for Philadelphia as appropriations chair from Harrisburg than you can do as mayor.”
There are good reasons why almost every one of the prospective Democrats could drop out by next May. But the black half of the field claims far more talent than the white, and anything that pares it down to two candidates will make it more difficult — if not impossible — for a white contender to be elected.