THE DEMOCRATIC rivals of millionaire Tom Knox, frustrated that they can't afford to attack their fellow mayoral candidate with TV ads, finally saw something to smile about yesterday: a guy dressed as a shark outside Knox's Broad and Girard campaign office.

The walking, talking fish called himself "Tommy the Loan Shark" and wore a sign reading "400% interest," a reference to Knox's involvement in the late '90s in high-interest payday lending.

Tommy's appearance was one of a number of attacks on Knox's payday-lending record that sprouted yesterday from anonymous and self-described independent sources. The news conference outside Knox headquarters was led by lawyer Alex Talmadge and the Rev. Robert Shine, a former head of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

They said they represented a newly formed organization whose mission is "exploring the issues of economic justice as they relate to the business practices of Tom Knox."

Shine and Talmadge declined to say who else is involved in the effort.

Shine said he'd met with Knox and was "appalled" by his payday lending, which he referred to as "credit heroin."

In the late 1990s Knox bought a savings-and-loan association called Crusader Bank, which did payday lending for about 18 months, drawing criticism from federal regulators.

Knox campaign spokesman Brad Katz said yesterday that Shine had asked Knox for financial support for Shine's church in exchange for Shine's support of his mayoral campaign. Knox refused, Katz said.

"That's outrageous," Shine said of Katz's allegation.

"I never asked him for a dime. I never asked for money for anything, period."

Shine did say he'd asked Knox to commit to several policy initiatives for Philadelphia's poor, including "service centers" for the young and the elderly.

"Tommy the Loan Shark" was accompanied yesterday by Jim Nixon, who described himself as an independent Democrat who was troubled by Knox's payday-loan record and was forming his own organization to raise the issue.

"I'd take any of the candidates over him, and I'm going to be with Tommy the Loan Shark all across this city until this thing is done," Nixon said.

He, Shine and Talmadge all said they had no connection to any other candidate.

Meanwhile, fliers began appearing in South and West Philadelphia attacking Knox's payday lending and touting the record of mayoral candidate Congressman Bob Brady, according to the Knox campaign.

Brady campaign spokeswoman Kate Philips said their camp had nothing to do with the fliers or the shark.

Katz said the fliers say something about Knox's opponents.

"This just shows you their priorities," Katz said.

"These guys are littering the city with this garbage while Tom is out talking with voters about the change that everyone agrees is so badly needed in Philadelphia." *