AS THE MAYOR'S race heads for the home stretch, I wonder about a lot of things.

I wonder if there is anyone in Philadelphia who predicted nine months ago - and can prove it - that Tom Knox and Michael Nutter would be racing to the finish line vying for first place. Last summer, to the extent that anyone thought about him, it was, "Tom Who?"

As for Nutter, the conventional thinking was that he was among the least likely to win. I was in that camp myself. I was wrong. Win or lose, he clearly has run the smartest campaign, helped, of course, by political impresario Neil Oxman. It is a race worthy of Street Sense, the horse who came from the back of the pack to win the Kentucky Derby last Saturday.

I wonder what the prominent business leader I talked with several months ago must be thinking now that Nutter is a front-runner. When I last saw this leader, he told me he was supporting U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who was then the front-runner. (Remember those days?)

I was surprised, since Nutter was the strongest advocate in City Council for the business community's tax-reduction agenda. And no one could confuse Fattah's "let's end poverty" platform with a chamber of commerce position paper.

"Michael's a friend of mine, but he can't win. Fattah can," the business leader explained to me.

How do you spell friendship? He obviously spells it, A-c-c-e-s-s-i-b-i-l-i-t-y.

I also wonder why the chamber of commerce's political-action Committee, PENNPAC, endorsed political operative Carol Campbell for the 4th Councilmanic District. According to its newsletter, PENNPAC said it was recommending candidates who will work "with the business community to advance a pro-business agenda." Campbell has been in Council for a short period, so I wonder if PENNPAC gave her extra credit because she spent so much time in Democratic City Committee promoting her own political-consulting business.

And I wonder whether Gov. Rendell and former President Bill Clinton use the same dictionary. Clinton, as you will recall, relied on his dictionary to define the word "is" in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Rendell must have referred to the Clinton dictionary in defining the word "endorsement."

After he stated publicly that Rep. Dwight Evans "has the best experience, the best background, the best understanding of the issues. . . . I might vote for Dwight," Rendell said that wasn't an endorsement. I wonder what it was.

I wonder why Rendell, who clearly loves Philadelphia, hasn't publicly spoken out against Knox if he is the "fake" that he is being portrayed as in television commercials. For months, Knox has run TV ads with Rendell's picture hovering over him like a guardian angel. Rendell could have borrowed from Ronald Reagan's script when he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the Berlin Wall. "Mr. Knox, tear down my picture from your ads."

To the contrary, Rendell recently went out of his way to credit Knox for helping with the city's turnaround when he was mayor.

I wonder why.

I wonder if this election would be different if Jonathan Saidel, with his strong Northeast Philadelphia support, hadn't made a quick exit to make way for Brady.

I wonder how long campaign signs will remain on telephone poles, park land, on Roosevelt Boulevard, Delaware Avenue and virtually anywhere there was once open space. It could be months, if not years.

Two years ago, I saw a campaign sign for Ron Castille in the Fairmount section of the city. This wasn't a sign for his election as a Supreme Court justice in 1993, or for mayor in 1991, but for his district attorney race - in the late 1980s.

Next Tuesday's victor should begin to fulfill his promise of cleaning up Philadelphia by instructing his campaign staff to comb the city immediately and remove all campaign signs, including those of his opponents, and return them to the vanquished.

I wonder if we will ever be able to make campaigns intellectually honest and relevant to the actual job of mayor. The key task of mayor is to make choices among competing interests. How do you balance the desire for more cops, or better-staffed libraries, or job-development programs or greater funding for the schools or lower taxes?

Only in political campaigns and maybe Council itself can you favor doing everything without worrying about how to pay for it.

As mayor, you actually have to make those difficult decisions.

I wonder who will have that honor. *

Phil Goldsmith has served in senior positions in the private and public sectors, most recently as the city's managing director. You can read more about his article on his blog at