Insider: Why Would Dwight Evans & Marian Tasco Endorse a White Mayoral Candidate?

Jay McCalla has some theories.

State Rep. Dwight Evans

State Rep. Dwight Evans

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

Jim Kenney’s Monday endorsement by West Oak Lane Democratic pols is worthy of the comedic device inelegantly known as a “spit take,” where a comic is drinking water and spits it out in sudden reaction to startling news. African American pols don’t make a habit of not endorsing an African American mayoral candidate, assuming one is handy. That’s not just a matter of cultural affinity, but of political survival. A politician risks both credibility and reelection by endorsing a candidate who won’t resonate with their voters, when there’s an alternative who can.

In a city brimming with risk-averse pols, why would a cabal of savvy office holders and ward leaders so grandly buck the likelihood that State Senator Anthony Williams will garner an impressive majority of the African American Democratic vote? Why aren’t they concerned their decision to back Kenney will deeply annoy the fellow—Williams—with a greater chance of becoming mayor?

Having been a senior manager of Rendell’s 1991 campaign, and having advised other citywide candidates, I surmise the endorsement was weeks in the making and involved detailed negotiations with Kenney and his most powerful supporter John Dougherty, head of the electricians union. There is no telling who approached whom.

A quick scan of the West Oak Lane pols who’ve joined Camp Kenney is revealing. Marian Tasco, while remaining leader of the 50th Democratic Ward, is retiring from City Council and will care less than ever about the mayor’s identity. She is, however, running State Rep Cherelle Parker as her replacement and Derek Green, a former Tasco staffer, for Council at Large. She needs cash and a citywide organization that will “carry” Green. While Kenney can provide neither, Dougherty can provide both.

It’s important to note that Tasco was never available to Williams in that she had previously made a deal with incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz to support him for mayor. The reported (and undenied) quid pro quo was that Butkovitz would help install Tasco’s pick to be the next  Controller.

State Rep. Cherelle Parker is under the tutelage of Tasco. She is not likely to reject Tasco’s advice at such a delicate time and on such an important matter. Not being a ward leader, her role is negligible.

Plainly, State Rep Dwight Evans was the Le Grande Fromage at the auspicious Relish conclave. After four years of Corbett-related difficulties, Evans is slowly returning to full strength. He shrewdly endorsed Tom Wolf for Governor very early and has recently been appointed to the SEPTA board, which controls billions in contracts and jobs.

All parties are smart enough to know these “endorsements” may not be worth much more than a stunning headline. In 2009, incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz was endorsed by Marian Tasco in her capacity as ward leader. That endorsement notwithstanding, a poorly funded African American challenger named John Braxton trounced Butkovitz in Tasco’s ward. Cultural affinity isn’t easily overcome by mere endorsements.

Jay McCalla has served as a city deputy managing director, a director for the Redevelopment Authority and as chief of staff to Councilman Rick Mariano. He is now a consultant.