Although the next election for Mayor of Philadelphia is probably still a few years away, there’s already been a fair amount of discussion about who could be sworn into the office in January 2016. We know that State Senator Anthony Williams wants the job. City Councilpersons Jim Kenney, Bill Green and Blondell Reynolds Brown all come up in conversation. And District Attorney Seth Williams is said to have mayoral ambitions. But the latest name to emerge is Williams’s former boss, the tough-as-nails Lynne Abraham, who became known as the “Death Penalty DA” during her nearly two decade tenure.
“Yes, I was approached by some women who want me to consider it,” Abraham confirmed on Wednesday evening from her office at Market Street law firm Archer & Greiner, where she’s been a partner since leaving the District Attorney’s office in January 2010, succeeded by Williams. “They have a great interest in female candidates, and I said that I am interested in testing the waters. I don’t mind taking risks, but I am not a fool.”
The women floating Abraham’s name include Diversified Search CEO Judee von Seldeneck and attorney Leslie Anne Miller, who served as Governor Ed Rendell’s General Counsel and was the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s first female president. The power-broker pair just threw a $100,000-plus fund-raising party for Pennsylvania Attorney General hopeful Kathleen Kane.
“Lynne is somebody I have known, respected and admired for years,” explains Miller. “But for the fact that she was a devoted wife to her significantly older husband, she would have probably run for office well before this. She had her priorities, and she knew her limitations. She obviously no longer has those responsibilities.” (Abraham chose not to run again for District Attorney in 2009, and her husband Frank Ford died that same year at the age of 92.)
Von Seldeneck believes it is high time for Philadelphia to have a viable female candidate for mayor and says that Abraham is “at the top of the list.” She adds that reaction to Abraham’s name among the “powers that be” has been positive.
Miller concurs: “The limited number of people with whom I have spoken have been uniformly enthusiastic, but this is still in a quiet stage. But Lynne is the logical choice. She knows this city, she’s held a leadership position, she’s terrific and capable. And there’s certainly precedent for a District Attorney holding this office.” (At least three Philadelphia District Attorneys went on to became mayor, including Richardson Dilworth and Ed Rendell.)
One person who is probably not as enthusiastic about Abraham’s potential candidacy is current District Attorney Williams, who memorably ran against Abraham in 2005 (and lost) while he was working for her, an act of subversion that raised quite a few eyebrows.
With a mayoral primary lineup that could include an Abraham vs. Williams rematch, could Abraham be in this for revenge, to teach her disloyal former protege a lesson? Abraham snickers at the thought. “I’m just crazy about this city,” she promises. “I have lived here all my life, and I would welcome the challenge.”
Many of the people I’ve spoken to about Abraham’s interest in the office ask some version of the same question: “How old is she?” The answer is 71, and one source close to Abraham says that concerns have been raised about her age as it relates to her viability as a candidate.
“It’s interesting. My age would never come up if I were a man,” observes Abraham. “How old is Joe Biden? Who cared about Ronald Reagan’s age? But when a woman runs, everyone wants to know how old she is. It doesn’t make sense … We outlive men.”