The Brief: En Masse, Philly Political Elites Are Turning on Anthony Williams

But elites don't decide elections, voters do. And the biggest Williams advertising tidal wave yet is about to roll in.


Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Anthony Williams’s campaign — once considered a juggernaut — is listing badly. Political elites are jumping ship, and the press has turned sharply critical. Will voters care?

The gist: Press coverage of Williams, never all that flattering, has turned positively biting in recent days as reaction to his head-scratching decision to go after ultra-popular Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey appears to have alienated Philly A-List politicos like Mayor Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams. Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson — of the same editorial page that kinda sorta just endorsed Williams — opined that, if Williams loses, “he should blame it on having a rudderless campaign that never distinguished itself on any issue.” Jackson argues that Williams has run away from his beliefs, downplaying his strong feelings about school choice. At the Daily News, Will Bunch penned a blistering attack headlined “Sorry, But Tony Williams Is Not the New Stokely Carmichael.”

On the political side, Nutter and Ed Rendell are critiquing a recent Williams’ attack ad that highlights reprehensible remarks Kenney made about policing in the 1990s. City Council President Darrell Clarke toured North Philly with Kenney last weekend. Rendell, who’s studiously avoided endorsing anyone in the mayoral race (except, sort of, Doug Oliver) was spotted at a fundraiser for Kenney at The Palm yesterday.

And Seth Williams, who has been very close with Anthony Williams for a long time, tweeted these remarks the other day.

Why it matters: As far as the city’s elites are concerned, Kenney has this thing just about sewn up. There’s some real anger amongst politicos that Williams has turned on Ramsey, who might just be the most highly regarded police commissioner in the country (remember, President Obama tapped him to lead the post-Ferguson police/community relations review). But there’s also a sense that Williams is in something of a free fall, and critiques that may earlier have just been whispered are now being made quite openly.

But those are the elites. What about the voting public? There it’s much less clear that the race is settled, largely because of the absence of independent polling. A lot of voters are just tuning into the race right now, and there’s no question all the negative news surrounding Williams will influence some of them. But it’s not at all clear how many, and the Williams campaign is betting that there’s a broad reservoir of dislike out there for city police that’s deep enough to lead many voters to pick the guy brave enough to take on Ramsey. And then there’s the little matter of TV.

2. Williams’s super PAC allies to spend $1 million in mayoral race’s final stretch.

The gist: NewsWorks’ Dave Davies reports, “American Cities, the super PAC supporting State Sen. Anthony Williams has increased its planned  TV and radio advertising for the final week of the Philadelphia mayor’s race to over $950,000, according to two sources familiar with political ad placements.” That means that by the end of the mayor’s race, the independent group will have spent a staggering $5 million-plus. Nearly $1 million in one week is a huge spend, enough to dominate the airwaves in a major way.Inline image 1

Why it matters: The principal funders of American Cities, three wealthy education reform advocates from the suburbs, aren’t stupid. They know that Williams is in second place, according to more than one internal poll, which is seemingly why they’re upping their spending. But there are open questions about their final $1 million push: 1) Will it matter? The tidal wave of ads could help to drown out the negative news and commentary swirling around Williams. But so far, the Super PAC has poured about $4 million into pro-Williams advertising, without vaulting Williams to the top. And 2) Will American Cities go negative? Williams’ campaign has all but asked them to by unveiling his own anti-Kenney ad earlier this week, but the school reform advocates could face personal attacks from Kenney if they air a negative ad about him. Then again, it may get their guy to the finish line.

3. Anger at mayoral forum on poverty, as candidates show late or not at all.

The gist: About 400 people turned out for a mayoral forum about poverty last night, but as it began, the only candidates there were Kenney and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey. Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME, which organized the event, was described by the Inqurer’s Alfred Lubrano as “aglow with sunlight and anger.”

Why it matters: All the candidates (and a lot of the press corps, ahem) are suffering advanced acute forum fatigue. There have been something like 70 forums in the mayoral campaign, and for those who’ve been to a lot of them, they can be profoundly repetitive. The problem for the candidates is that, except for the press and a few political addicts, most people in the audience aren’t going to dozens of forums. Most are going to one. And by skipping a forum, or sending a surrogate, or going through the motions in a desultory fashion, candidates run the risk of alienating hundreds of voters at a time. Also, Sister Mary is maybe the last person in the world any future mayor should want to irritate.