BOY, THAT escalated quickly.
City Councilman Jim Kenney became the talk of the town yesterday amid a flurry of reports that he was suddenly thisclose to officially entering the 2015 mayor's race.
The speculation turned breathless at one point - Kenney was taking personal calls behind closed doors in his office! - but the day ended without an announcement being made one way or another, even though Kenney's legislative director, Jim Engler, had told reporters that a statement was going to be released.
When reached by phone, Kenney said he was "not prepared" to say if he was throwing his hat into the ring.
Instead, he referred questions to Lauren Hitt, who had served as the campaign spokeswoman for former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo, until Trujillo abruptly withdrew from the race on Wednesday because of problems with his extended family in New Mexico.
"He's still going through his process, and understands he needs to make a decision soon," said longtime political consultant Ken Snyder, who met with Kenney.
"He understands he needs to make a decision this weekend, and will hopefully make an announcement early next week."
Snyder said that he has not been hired by Kenney, who would have to resign from City Council to run for mayor.
Kenney began to seriously consider entering the fray after Trujillo withdrew.
He later met with Council President Darrell Clarke, and a handful of potential campaign consultants.
John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the leader of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, upped the ante, telling the Inquirer he considered Kenney a "dark horse" candidate.
A source close to Trujillo said Kenney met yesterday with Trujillo's former campaign manager, Bill Hyers.
According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Trujillo is moving to throw the staff and money he assembled for his mayoral run behind Kenney.
Trujillo is rumored to have amassed about $400,000 in campaign funds. Under the city's campaign-finance laws, individuals can only donate up to $2,900 to a campaign, while political committees can donate up to $11,500.
The source said more of Trujillo's money could be directed to Kenney through "independent expenditures," a term commonly associated with so-called "Super PACs." These political groups can accept and spend an unlimited amount of money in support of a political candidate, but are barred from coordinating with candidates.
Kenney seemed to be viewed yesterday as an intriguing alternative to the current crop of Democratic mayoral candidates: State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, and former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz.
But despite the sudden and intense interest in Kenney as a candidate, former Gov. Ed Rendell expressed doubt that the councilman would actually enter the race.
"Jimmy is the flavor of the week," he said. "He has a fairly good understanding of politics. If he does the math, as long as Lynne [Abraham] is in the race, there's no way he can win."
Rendell, who supported Trujillo, said he believed Abraham would win "white senior citizens" and a small percentage of older African-American voters.
He said Kenney might have a difficult time winning enough minority voters with Williams and Diaz also in the race.
"Jimmy's a good guy, and I'm not saying he wouldn't like to be mayor," Rendell said. "But I think he understands that he can't lose [his Council seat], and he'd be giving up something that he loves."
- Staff writer Wendy Ruderman
contributed to this report.