Politics: A No-Lynne Situation

Feuds! Money! Endorsements! The race to replace D.A. Lynne Abraham is about everything but putting criminals behind bars

Turnout for the primary is likely to be extremely low. Which means that absent a scandal or surprise to shake it up, the race will largely be decided by two things: who puts the most ads on local television, and who has the street muscle to get voters to the polls. “With this many candidates, it is really going to be about who has the ability to raise some money and establish the relationships necessary to develop their ground game,” says A. Michael Pratt, a partner at Pepper Hamilton who’s active in city Democratic Party politics. Another city political vet puts it a tad more succinctly: “Whoever is out there raising the most money wins.”
There isn’t a lot of money to be had. Most of the people who have a vested interest in this outcome — judges, criminal defense lawyers, cops — aren’t, by and large, prolific fund-raisers. So Williams would seem to have an advantage: He’s been through this before, and his donor list is peppered with the bright-eyed Center City ideologues who in 2007 helped break Nutter out of the mayoral primary pack against two veteran congressmen and a self-financed millionaire. But recent questions about messy ­accounting — including a controversial $10,000 in reimbursements Williams’s campaign made to his wife last year — may prove a distraction. So it turns out that thus far, McCaffrey is the one with the cha-ching factor: By the end of ’08, he’d out-raised Williams $193,000 to $138,000. (McElhatton raised $110,000; Turner, only $46,780.) By early February, McCaffrey’s haul was more than $300,000, a good bulk of it from the unions.  
Still, in an election such as this, bodies on the street may tip the scales. McCaffrey, like McElhatton a white-working-class-neighborhood-type guy from the Northeast, seems to have a solid portion of city union support locked down, most notably John Dougherty’s Local 98. The city’s Democratic ward leaders, the soldiers whose old-school door-knocking wins elections and patronage jobs, also appear to be leaning to McCaffrey, though it’s still early. “I get phone calls every day that McElhatton is actively calling every ward leader, has actively called every union,” McCaffrey says.
Some see the D.A.’s race as a referendum on Dougherty’s political power, a gauge of how badly, if at all, he was hurt by his loss to Larry Farnese in last year’s State Senate election to succeed Vince Fumo. While the image of Dougherty’s streetwise troops delivering the election to McCaffrey is a popular one, not everyone sees it. “Dougherty doesn’t have the kind of power that people think he does,” argues a longtime city political lobbyist. “I think he treats politics as sport instead of as an avocation. He doesn’t seem to instill much loyalty, because the people he’s pissed off were very important to his evolution [in politics]. He’s not a kingmaker. He’s really not.” A lot of politicos feel this way — though none of them necessarily want that known publicly.