IN THE FINAL WEEK of a mayor's race marked by odd twists and turns, I wonder if there's time and space for yet one more bend in the road.

Does, for example, the Big Dog - and that would be Edward G. Rendell - still lead the pack in wielding influence among city voters?

I think so.

And if so, then maybe he's created a possible veer with his "non-endorsement endorsement" of Dwight Evans.

In case you missed it, Rendell, who says he can't endorse any of the five Democratic candidates because of "strong personal relationships" he has with each, told the Inky that Evans is "best qualified to be mayor."


Let's see. This is not an endorsement, since I can't endorse, but of all those running for the office of mayor the "best qualified" to serve in the office of mayor is one candidate, Dwight Evans.

If that's not an endorsement, one wonders what one might sound like.

Conversely, one wonders how much Rendell helps Bob Brady by calling him, in the same Inky interview, "the best of the breed of old-time politicians."

One of the Brady bunch says, "I'm sure he meant it in the nicest way."

I am, too.

I'm just not sure city voters are all that drawn to old-time politicians, these days, best of the breed or no.

But I digress.

To the possible effect of tagging Evans best of the bunch.

Let's say Evans throws up a final TV ad and runs it heavy this last week touting Eddie's quote.

And let me note that unless the Evans campaign is deaf, blind and belly-up in the Schuylkill it ought to do just that, along with a lit-drop, robo-calls, graffiti, skywriting and anything else it can afford.

When I ask Evans about this he says, "You know we don't give out trade secrets."

But full-metal use of Eddie's words might breathe a little life into an otherwise airless Evans effort and boost his lagging support.

Stay with me.

Where might new support come from?

I think it comes from Michael Nutter.

I think this because outside Center City (which Nutter seems to own), Nutter and Evans attract the same type of issue-oriented, thoughtful, hopeful, race-blind backers.

And if I'm right, and some Nutter supporters peel off for Evans, doesn't that blunt Nutter's momentum just as Nutter appears headed to overtaking frontrunner Tom Knox?

In other words, has Rendell, purposely or not, helped Knox with his "non-endorsement" of Evans?

Your Daily News reported Friday that Rendell did call our Dave Davies out of the blue to talk about Knox's contributions to saving the city as deputy mayor under Rendell in the '90s.

The Guv also said, "If he [Knox] was elected mayor he would know how to cut costs and wouldn't be afraid to kick some butt in the bureaucracy."

So maybe Eddie praise helps Knox, too, and stems what seems like recent slippage.

This race began with assumptions Chaka Fattah would win. It flirted with the notion a lessons-learned Evans could win. There was a brief belief Bob Brady would win. There was the shock and awe of "outsider" Knox. And it seems to be ending with a nudge for Nutter.

There were, I'd remind you, early scenarios under which any of the five could end up as mayor. And now, down to days to go, it appears we're looking at Nutter or Knox.

My question is, does the Big Dog, in word or deed, impact the outcome or, purposely or not, cause it to take one more turn? *