Al Taubenberger has an upbeat attitude about being the Republican candidate for mayor of Philadelphia, and it's a good thing he does.
The other day, he walked into the Country Club Restaurant on Cottman Avenue in the Northeast and was greeted by an old friend, Marlyn Videtsky.
"So, Al, are you running or what?" she asked.
If Taubenberger was taken aback by the question, he didn't show it.
Yes, he's running, he said. Not only that, he's the only contender for the Republican nomination in the May 15 primary. And he's been a candidate for nearly three months now.
Videtsky, pleased with the answer, requested a lawn sign. He said he'd oblige.
"Signs I got," he observed a moment later. "Money I could use."
When Taubenberger started to run in February, he had $100 in the campaign kitty. Now, he says, he has at least twice that much - as well as confidence that he'll eventually raise a respectable amount. He figures greater awareness of his candidacy will come as well.
Taubenberger, 53, president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, knows that it's never easy being the Republican candidate in a city that hasn't elected a Republican mayor in 60 years.
But he soldiers on with a smile, showing up wherever he's invited, pressing to be included in mayoral forums, speaking in broad terms about the problems that afflict the city and the solutions he'd pursue.
"Some people say, 'Al, you've got a steep hill to climb,' " he said. "Heck, I'm a mountain climber [not literally]. I like the adventure. I like the opportunity to speak out on issues. Because after a lifetime of experience, I have some ideas."
He's gotten little attention this spring while the five major Democrats slug it out. So he's grateful for any invitation, any platform, any audience.
For instance, Taubenberger traveled one recent morning to the Philadelphia Senior Center, Tioga Branch, in North Philadelphia. The crowd there consisted of about 40 elderly African Americans, most if not all of them Democrats.
"This guy has a lot of guts even coming here," host Bill Hartie declared approvingly, introducing the visitor.
The appreciative candidate delivered an abbreviated version of his standard speech, spiced with promises not to forget their hospitality and to return often.
In that speech, he talks about the need to improve public safety, to cut taxes on people and businesses, to get rid of the pay-to-play culture at City Hall, to encourage economic development, to eliminate violence in the schools, and to reduce class sizes in the elementary grades.
To underline the importance of the last point, Taubenberger rattles off the names of seven women, calling each Miss or Mrs.
"They're not my appointments to the school board - they happen to be my elementary school teachers," he says. "And I know many of you could probably name your teachers, too. You know why I know that? Because that age is when your soul is touched, your mind is open, and goodness can come from it."
Even by the standards of the city's perennial minority party, which is outregistered by the Democrats 6-1, Taubenberger is obscure for a mayoral candidate. A lifetime native of the Northeast, he's never won an election, losing two Republican congressional primaries in 2002 and 2004.
He has some governmental experience on his resume; he held staff jobs for Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Dougherty in the early 1980s and later for two City Council members, Democrat Joan Krajewski and Republican Jack Kelly. He served on the city Tax Reform Commission in 2003.
He's also a longtime neighborhood activist, the founder and president of the Burholme Civic Association and Town Watch.
At this point, he has no headquarters. Call the phone number of his campaign handout and you get voice mail - and sometimes a message that the mailbox is full. Taubenberger says he tries to clean out the backlog as often as he can.
He jokes that even though people say he's a lock to win the Republican nomination, being unopposed, he can't take anything for granted.
"You never know," he says. "There may be a write-in campaign. I may sleep in."
But more substantive concerns about his status in the general election have surfaced recently.
One is the news that Sam Katz, the Republican mayoral candidate in 1999 and 2003, has positioned himself for a possible run as an independent in the fall.
The other is the continuing speculation that GOP leaders might look to replace Taubenberger with a potentially stronger candidate if the Democratic survivor after May 15 looks bloodied and beatable.
For there to be a substitution for Taubenberger, though, he'd have to sign a paper saying that he no longer wants to run.
"And I won't sign," he said.
So the graduate of Northeast High School and Penn State, father of four, keeps traveling around the city without knowing exactly where he stands or who will be running against him in a few weeks.
"I enjoy what I'm doing, and I have the confidence to know that I could be an effective mayor," Taubenberger said. "It's a fascinating race, and I'm honored to be part of it."
The Taubenberger File
Political party: Republican.
Education: Northeast High School; Pennsylvania State University.
Business experience: President and CEO of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce since 1992. Formerly worked in the grounds department of Friends Hospital. Also worked for the Council of Labor and Industry, and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.
Political experience: Staff director for U.S. Rep. Charles Dougherty, 1981-84. Worked on the staff of City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, 1985-88; was chief of staff for Councilman Jack Kelly, 1988-92.
Family: Married to Joanne, a Philadelphia public schoolteacher. He has four children, Matt, Lis, Sarah and William.EndText