Mayoral Wild Card Ken Trujillo Enters Philadelphia Mayoral Race

Analysis: Lots to like, lots to question.

ken trujillo mayor candidateKen Trujillo, who is perhaps the most interesting wild card in the reputed 2015 mayoral field, formally entered the race this morning with a press conference outside 440 N. Broad Street (headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia).

It was a fascinating press conference, for a couple of different reasons.

For one, Trujillo — who is considered the most pro-business candidate in the field — came out in support of a host of progressive causes, from universal preschool, to empowering the city’s new land bank, to doing away with stop-and-frisk, to restoring the school district to local control and abolishing the state-run School Reform Commission.

Taking a page from Bill de Blasio’s insurgent mayoral campaign in New York (which I think we can expect a lot of the candidates to ape), Trujillo warned of the growing gap between rich and poor in Philadelphia, and spoke at length of how the city is “failing our children.”

It was interesting rhetoric, coming from a wealthy lawyer and businessman whose natural base includes the city’s business community.

Trujillo also showed that he’s not quite ready for prime time. It’s very early, and he’ll surely get better, but Trujillo’s delivery was awkward, and he flat-out ducked (and not elegantly) a lot of questions from the press corps.

What role do you think charters should play? Non answer. What about the PGW sale? “From my perspective, everything has to be on the table.” How about pensions? “Over the next 18 months, starting from today going forward, what we have to make sure we have to do, is every employee in Philadelphia, every person in Philadelphia, has to understand that we’re not going to have the same kinds of things over and over. So we need to take a look at every issue and there’s going to be a lot of time to go into that.”

Huh?

Now you don’t expect a mayoral candidate to have a perfectly polished answer to every question on day one, particularly when the candidate is a first-timer like Trujillo. But he’ll need to get better fast.

And he very well could. There are a lot of reasons to take Trujillo seriously; one of them is the team he’s assembled. Bill Hyers, who helped De Blasio win the race in New York, is on the Trujillo campaign payroll. So is Ken Snyder’s media and strategy firm, who worked for Mayor Street and Governor Rendell. Jane Slusser, who worked on Obama’s re-elect campaign, is Trujillo’s political director. That’s some real firepower.

Trujillo can afford it, which is another reason to take him seriously. He’s grown wealthy over the years, and seems prepared to contribute handsomely to his campaign. When I asked how he could expect to beat a field of veteran pols, he replied: “I don’t know. Maybe I should ask Tom Wolf.” It was his best zinger of the press conference, and a good reminder that Trujillo, like Wolf, can put a lot of personal resources into the campaign.

There’s a lot to like about Trujillo’s resume and in his personal biography as well. He grew up in a poor New Mexico family, the son of a preacher, and worked his way through Penn Law. Trujillo became an assistant U.S. Attorney, then served as City Solicitor for John Street (good thing he has that inoculating stint in the U.S. Attorney’s office), then went on to become a big-time private attorney and entrepreneur. He’s served on a lot of the big, powerful public/private boards in the city, and he knows how the system works.

Trujillo is also obviously a Latino, and it’s possible (though not at all a sure thing) that his candidacy could rally the city’s Latino voters and get them out to the polls in larger numbers than is typical. That’s a trickier proposition than you might assume, partly because Trujillo is not Puerto Rican, as are most Philadelphia Latino voters (which makes Trujillo something of an outsider in the Puerto Rican-dominated Philly Latino political scene), and because it’s entirely possible other Latino candidates (former Judge Nelson Diaz, Managing Director Rich Negrin, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez) could enter the race.

Finally, Trujillo can plausibly lay claim to being an outsider, at least when stacked against the longtime politicians that are likely to be heavy early favorites. As Trujillo put it this morning, “those who think that we’re doing alright, that the status quo is just fine, they’re going to have plenty of candidates to choose from.”

Those are the pros. The cons?

After Trujillo was introduced by his wife, he stood up there alone. If Council President Darrell Clarke were to run, you’d see half the elected officials in the city behind him at his announcement. Trujillo won’t have the support of John Dougherty, or Bob Brady. He’ll have to do this largely on his own. Now, Mayor Nutter proved it can be done. And some, like Trujillo and mayoral candidate Terry Gillen, clearly believe the political dynamics in this town have changed to the point where genuinely independent candidates can win big citywide races. Most of the rest of the political class seems to think Nutter was a fluke. Next year should settle that debate one way or the other.

Race could be a factor for Trujillo, too. In most mayoral elections (excepting, again, Nutter’s), white Philadelphians have tended to vote for white candidates, and black Philadelphians have tended to vote for black candidates. There’s never been a Latino mayoral candidate in Philadelphia before, so there’s just no telling if Trujillo will be helped or harmed by the city’s political racial dynamics.

Finally, Trujillo could be looking at a crippling charisma deficit. I don’t know him nearly as well as I do the other candidates in this race, and he’s quite possibly charming and nimble on his feet most of the time. But if so, Trujillo didn’t show that on day one.

Follow @pkerkstra on Twitter.

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