The Brief: Why We Didn’t Know Who Was Winning the Philly Mayor’s Race Until This Week

Spoiler: Cell phones are to blame.


The candidates who want to be Philly’s next mayor | Photos by Jeff Fusco

1. The reason there was only one poll this entire mayoral campaign? Cell phones. And money.

The gist: The first independent poll of the Philadelphia mayor’s race was just released six days before Election Day, showing former City Councilman Jim Kenney with a commanding lead. Compare that to 2007, the last time there was a competitive mayoral primary. By the end of April that year, 10 independent polls had already been conducted

Why it matters: Blame cell phones for the dearth of polls this season, writes The Next Mayor‘s Ryan Briggs. It’s difficult to chase down mobile phone records, and once a pollster gets them, it’s difficult to chase down someone who is willing to pick up the phone. That makes it more costly to commission a poll, which comes at the worst time for cash-strapped news organizations that usually pick up the tab. Briggs reports, “To get 596 responses for the Inquirer/NBC10 poll” — this year’s lone poll — “survey company National Research Inc. had to make between 20,000 and 25,000 calls.” Perhaps part of the reason this race has been seen as less dynamic than past mayoral contests is because, without polling, there was less urgency and clarity about the state of the campaign.

2. Is the Black Clergy abandoning Tony Williams’ campaign?

The gist: When City Council President Darrell Clarke announced Thursday that he is endorsing Kenney for mayor, another powerful African-American leader was standing alongside him: Rev. Terrence Griffith, president of the Black Clergy and Vicinity. Griffith’s group endorsed state Sen. Anthony Williams for mayor. But Griffith said at the press conference, “I think Jim Kenney would make a great mayor,” and speculated that Williams “gave this election away,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Why it matters: This has been a bad, bad week for the Williams campaign. The Inquirer/NBC10 poll released Wednesday showed Williams trailing Kenney by a stunning 27 points, and now onetime supporters of the senator are jumping ship. Williams’ only chance is to win over basically all of Philly’s undecided voters, and then run a phenomenal get-out-the-vote operation, turning out African-Americans in particular. The fact that Griffith extolled Kenney at an endorsement event surely won’t help with that.

3. Slate Dubs Lynne Abraham One of “America’s Deadliest Prosecutors”

The gist: Way back in 1995, The New York Times called then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham the “deadliest D.A.” because she sought the death penalty more than any other prosecutor in the country. Twenty years later, in the midst of Abraham’s mayoral campaign, Slate published an article by assistant law professor Robert Smith, who writes that “Abraham secured 45 death sentences as the Philadelphia district attorney.” The headline (under which there is an old-school image of Abraham): “America’s Deadliest Prosecutors.”

Why it matters: This campaign, Abraham has sought to soften her image as a tough-on-crime politician, saying that she is now “fine” with abolishing the death penalty and would have handled police shootings differently today. But she’s had a hard time convincing the media and advocacy groups, such as the National Organization of Women’s local chapter, of her transformation. A week from now, if the poll results are right, pundits will likely say this was one reason she lost.