The Brief: Tony Williams Dodges a Bullet

The Black Clergy almost didn't endorse Williams for mayor.

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1. Anthony Williams Scores an Endorsement from the Black Clergy, But Just Barely

The Gist: State Sen. Anthony Williams will officially accept the endorsement from the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity Thursday morning. But he almost didn’t receive the nod: “The endorsement comes with an asterisk,” the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Chris Brennan writes. “Former City Councilman James F. Kenney won the majority vote when the group’s political committee voted, before the full membership. … [The] group split on the candidates between the committee vote and the full vote.”

Why It Matters: Williams just dodged a political bullet. If Kenney, who is white, had won the endorsement of the Black Clergy, it have almost certainly helped him pick up a few black votes. And Kenney desperately needs black support to win the election, because what is crudely known as “racial math” is currently working against him: Philadelphians tend to vote along racial lines, and Williams is the only top-tier black candidate in the mayor’s race, whereas Kenney is one of two top-tier white candidates. (Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham is the other.) The split among Black Clergy members also suggests a dissatisfaction with Williams in some black political circles. Also, earlier this month, Kenney was endorsed by several prominent black politicians, including City Councilwoman Marian Tasco and state Rep. Dwight Evans (after which Williams was counter-endorsed by black activists and former lawmakers).

2. Ethics Board Pushes for Stricter Campaign Finance Rules for Independent Groups

The Gist: The Ethics Board has recommended that City Council and Mayor Michael Nutter strengthen city’s campaign finance laws, particularly when it comes to independent groups that can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence an election as long as they do not coordinate with any campaign. One of the suggested rules would “require that independent expenditures who even mention a person as a candidate in that covered election must file a campaign finance report,” reports the Inky’s Claudia Vargas. Right now, independent groups only need to file if they use such words as “vote for” or “don’t elect” in advertising.

Why It Matters: Philadelphia’s Ethics Board continues to disprove the theory that this is a wholly corrupt town. As Dave Davies once wrote for the Daily News, “This aggressive panel has kicked butt and taken names, and in the process changed the way that elections happen in Philadelphia.” If supported by City Council, the regulations recommended by the Ethics Board wouldn’t become law in time to affect the May 19th primary election, but they could impact the primary this fall. And that could be particularly interesting if Williams, who has the backing of an independent group funded by three wealthy school reform advocates, won the primary, and former mayoral candidate Sam Katz ran against him as an Independent.

3. PennDOT Asserts Veto Power Over Some Billboards

The Gist: The state’s Department of Transportation determined that it now has the final word on any outdoor advertising along Philadelphia highways. That includes Broad Street, Market Street and the Vine Street Expressway, for instance. KYW reports, “State officials say the move is aimed at ensuring that Pennsylvania doesn’t lose out on millions of dollars in highway funding from the federal government.”

Why It Matters: This means all billboards along highways will need to receive both a city and PennDOT permit. And, yes, that includes one of the massive, electronic billboards recently approved by City Council for North Broad Street. Is this bad news because the city is once again losing control to the state? Or is it good news because billboards will be more tightly regulated?