Philadelphia Election 2015: Who Wants to Be Mayor?

Seriously, anyone interested?
Illustration by James Boyle

Illustration by James Boyle

Used to be that the mayoralty of Philadelphia was a job worth taking a risk for, a gig deserving of a little personal sacrifice. Frank Rizzo wanted a third term so badly that it just might have killed him. John Street, probably the most powerful Council president in the city’s modern history, surrendered that clout to run for mayor. And Michael Nutter was the longest of long shots when he gave up a steady paycheck and his Council seat in July 2006, nearly a year before the primary.

Now, though, what you mostly hear from the field of potential 2015 candidates — a shifting array of names including city controller Alan Butkovitz, City Councilman Jim Kenney, city managing director Rich Negrin, State Senator Anthony Williams, former D.A. Lynne Abraham, attorney Kenneth Trujillo, former Nutter press secretary Doug Oliver, Frank Rizzo Jr. and three-time mayoral candidate Sam Katz — are all the reasons not to run, at least not yet. Some are waiting for Council president Darrell Clarke to decide if he’s in or out. Half the city’s political class is convinced Clarke is the best man for the job right now. Clarke himself seems considerably less certain.

Others among this balky class of candidates have even more practical concerns, like: How will they pay the mortgage after quitting their day jobs? What will they do with their lives in the event they lose?

The city charter requires those who earn a city paycheck to give up those jobs before launching a campaign for another office. For those without a lot of cash in the bank, running for mayor is a real financial risk. One option for would-be mayors is to get a no-show job at some politically connected company that does business with the city — basically pay-to-play, on steroids. For those and other reasons, the charter probably should be changed. (Voters feel otherwise, having twice rejected proposed repeals of resign-to-run.)

Still, is it so much to ask of those who would be mayor that they lay everything on the line? Mayoral aspirant and former Nutter confidante Terry Gillen faces long odds in her bid for the top job — longer than a lot of the wafflers in the field. But Gillen quit her $158,000-plus city post in January. “You have to really want this,” she says, citing the consuming desire for the job that motivated both Nutter and Ed Rendell. “The candidate who is prepared to make a lot of sacrifices is the candidate that often wins.”

Originally published as “Who Wants to Be Mayor?” in the September 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.