Darrell Clarke Passes on Mayoral Run: Why It Matters.

And why it doesn't.

Photo courtesy of City Council of Philadelphia.

Photo courtesy of City Council of Philadelphia.

Darrell Clarke won’t run for mayor. What does that mean for the race? Both more and less than meets the eye.

Why It’s a Big Deal

  • Senator Anthony Williams now has a path to victory a mile wide. As the highest-profile black candidate in the race not named Milton Street, Williams will have a big demographic edge over his rivals in majority plurality black Philadelphia. Yes, it’s true that Michael Nutter proved Philadelphians will cross color-lines while voting. But it’s not clear there’s a candidate with that sort of cross-racial appeal in this race. Most analysts expect that Williams’ base will be largely black, supplemented by party loyalists. Clarke would have been courting many of the same voters. Williams’ job just got a lot easier.
  • It’s possible another candidate may now get in. Clarke’s indecision had frozen the race. Alan Butkovitz will think about getting back in. At-large City Councilman Jim Kenney will do the same. But it would be surprising if either actually rolled the dice on a run. Neither has an easy path to victory, and Clarke’s delays have made it harder for either of those potential candidates to line up the money and union support they’d need to mount a credible challenge.
  • Speaking of unions… Most are still on the fence, and few find the existing candidates attractive options, as Citified’s Holly Otterbein has reported. Will they swallow their objections and line up behind one candidate or another, or largely sit this mayoral election out? The answer to that question should be clear soon.
  • With Clarke’s decision not to run, it’s looking traditional education interests may not have a credible candidate in this race that reflects their priorities; a pretty amazing development in a big city Democratic primary. Williams is the state’s foremost Democratic champion of charter schools and vouchers. Lynne Abraham has suggested she’s not a fan of teacher tenure and wants more intense evaluation of instructors. Doug Oliver’s positions on education are largely unknown. Ken Trujillo is a charter school founder, but he’s called for the abolition of the School Reform Commission, and he may the best option teachers and their allies have. But can Trujillo court the anti-ed reform vote and still win over business interests?
  • In all likelihood, Clarke will remain City Council president. That means the next mayor, like Nutter, will have to contend with a rival powerbase within City Hall that knows the terrain far better than any new mayor will. Council isn’t as unified as it was a few years back, PGW and internal frictions have seen to that. But Clarke does still seem relatively firmly in control of the chamber, and he’s likely to report in February that he’s got a ton of cash (raised in part because of speculation he would run for mayor) on hand to help him shore up loyalties in council races this spring. Clarke is likely to remain a huge force in city politics for a long time to come.

Why It’s Not

  • Nobody expected Clarke would run. Not the candidates, not their staffs. Some Clarke-friendly donors and unions may have stayed on the sidelines out of wishful thinking, but the other campaigns have already considered all the points above and much more. What would have been disruptive is if Clarke had gotten in.

This May Be It, Folks

People have been kvetching about this Democratic mayoral field for nearly two years. But the complaining hasn’t changed the field’s makeup much so far, and I doubt Clarke’s decision will shake the race up either. If anybody else is getting in, they’ll need to do it very, very soon.