Power: The Next Howard Dean?

Joe Trippi almost turned an obscure governor from Vermont into America’s president. But his next trick may be even tougher: turning insurance salesman Tom Knox into Philly’s mayor

ood help may be hard to find, but when you’re as rich as Tom Knox, you can afford the best. When the 64-year-old UnitedHealthcare CEO recently decided to make a long-shot bid in 2007’s mayoral election, he knew that’s what he’d need. Over his rags-to-riches business career, which began in life insurance, Knox had banked tens of millions of dollars. He was wired up with local business and Democratic political elites. He’d even worked in Ed Rendell’s City Hall for 18 months. But Knox had never run for anything in his life. And frankly, he neither knew nor cared much about grimy retail politics.

So Knox asked his buddies in politics who could turn a bland rich guy into a celebrated savior of Philadelphia. Given that he was prepared to spend up to $15 million of his own fortune, he wanted someone good. Better than good. “If you want the best,” said his friend, big-shot Democratic fund-raiser Tom Leonard, “you need to call this guy Trippi.”

Knox had never heard of this guy Trippi. Didn’t know that Trippi was the brain behind Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, in which the obscure Vermont governor went from protest candidate to almost-nominee before screaming his way into oblivion. Hadn’t heard that Trippi was a visionary who’d seized upon the Internet’s full potential and helped Dean raise nearly $60 million and marshal a fanatical volunteer army. Somehow missed Trippi in the glossy magazines and on the talking-head shows. But Knox wanted the best, and Trippi sounded like it. So he called Joe, and they talked. And thus was born the oddest couple in recent Philadelphia politics.