The possibility of Dana Spain’s candidacy for mayor of Philadelphia has moved from “maybe” to “most likely” since Victor Fiorillo first broke the story here at phillymag.com. And when she runs, the registered Democrat will not be affiliated with a political party—she’ll be an independent.
The businesswoman and philanthropist appeared on “The Dawn Show” on WMCN-TV44, hosted by my wife, Dawn Stensland-Mendte.
“I’m pretty sure that I am going to be running,” is the first thing Dana said when the topic came up. She has spent the last month meeting with both Democratic and Republican power brokers, office holders, past candidates and party leaders. “I have spoken with a ton of people,” is the way Spain put it. “It’s interesting, everyone I have spoken to, on both sides of the aisle, have been extraordinarily generous with their time. I think right now they see me as a non-threat.”
Spain seems amused that the politicians and the media see her as a novelty candidate. “There was an article that came out that made it look like I was running for prom queen instead of mayor,” Spain complained. “Isn’t she cute? Oh, how nice she wants to run for mayor. Put her in the corner and put a crown on her head.”
She seems to like the fact that she is being underestimated, that way no one will see her coming. Spain has an impressive resume. She is the CEO of DLG Communications, one of the top branding companies in the area. She built and sold Philadelphia Style magazine. She runs PAWS, an animal rescue charity. She has made millions and is worth even more, as her father, Bernard Spain, is co-founder of the Dollar Express stores.
But there is something else I learned about Dana Spain: She is comfortable and charismatic on television—much better than any of the list of potential candidates. So she’s a woman with money to buy TV time, and the ability to connect with voters in 60 seconds is someone to be taken seriously. When Dawn asked her how much of her own money she was willing to spend on her campaign and if she thinks she can win, she ever so smoothly side-stepped the issue with a “that’s a really good question,” and then said “I don’t do anything that I don’t believe I am going to be good at, and that I’m going to win.” It was the kind of polished answer you would expect from an experienced politician.
Even with her cache of charisma and cash, history gives Spain little chance of winning. Forget that the city has never had a woman mayor. The last time Philadelphia had a mayor who didn’t run as strictly a Republican or a Democrat was Rudolph Blakenburg, who ran and won on the “Keystone-Democratic ticket” in 1911 with a promise to clean up corruption and reform the government.
Spain is hoping an independent campaign with the promise of reform can happen in Philadelphia every hundred years. “I think there needs to be a candidate solidly in the middle” explains Spain. “Although most of my fiscal policies are very Republican, I think the Republican party still needs to get its act together. The party really scared me as a woman in the last election. Especially in Philadelphia, the ‘R’ next to your name makes it an uphill battle, Mount Everest.”
It can be argued that an “I” next to your name makes that uphill battle a space shot. There is no fundraising or get-out-the-vote machine in place. Spain seems unfazed. “I’ve built businesses. I’ve built networks. I’ll build my own machine.” That may sound naive, but there is more than hot air behind the chutzpah. “I would rather have people that are loyal to me that I don’t owe something to. That’s what is so dirty about our politics in the city, everybody owes somebody something. ‘If you do something for me, I’ll give you a job you’re not qualified for, but pays you six figures a year to do nothing.’ That’s not the way I run a business.”
Rudolph Blankenburg would be proud.