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Knox focuses on the future

He discussed Michael Nutter, the Democratic establishment, and his personal plans.

Tom Knox speaks in his first detailed interview since his defeat in the mayoral primary. He did not rule out a future political campaign.
Tom Knox speaks in his first detailed interview since his defeat in the mayoral primary. He did not rule out a future political campaign.Read more

Tom Knox says Philadelphians need to worry about whether Michael Nutter can distance himself as mayor from the Democratic Party establishment that Knox railed against.

But they don't need to worry about Knox, the self-made multimillionaire who came in second in Tuesday's mayoral primary.

While not ruling out another run for office, Knox said he might try investment banking. "You could probably make tens of millions of dollars if you get into it and do it right," he said yesterday in an interview. "Hundreds of millions, actually."

Not that Knox needs it, even after spending $10 million on his campaign. "When you already have hundreds of millions, it doesn't matter," he said. "I can't spend it."

In his first detailed interview since election night, Knox, 66, seemed alternately weary and wistful yesterday as he sat tieless in his 38th-floor office on Arch Street, surrounded by trophies of a successful career - photographs of him with Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, Luciano Pavarotti.

Knox said he had refrained from going into the public eye the day after the election "to wind things down" with his family and to collect his thoughts. Yesterday, he was taking phone calls from friends and accepting warm wishes from supporters on the street when he went out for lunch.

"It's gratifying," he said of the 70,000 votes he received. "I've had a lot of phone calls from people saying they hope I'll stay involved in something or other."

Some analysts said it was Knox who paved the way for Nutter's watershed election by spending millions of dollars on commercials that set a reform agenda, a foundation that the former city councilman was able to exploit once Knox's campaign came under attack and flattened out.

"The good news is that we just didn't get an old-time politician in office doing the same old things," Knox said. "It just goes to show you that those political machines aren't all what they're built up to be."

But after the end of the recorded interview, Knox said he worried that Nutter, who cultivated a reputation as a maverick councilman while building alliances within the Democratic Party, would rely too much on party leaders rather than dismantling a system that Knox believes is responsible for costly and inefficient government.

"I don't think he'll get rid of Bob Brady," Knox said, referring to the party chairman and congressman who was one of five candidates in the mayoral race - and with whom Knox frequently clashed.

(Nutter said Wednesday that he had not "given a lot of thought" to Brady's future as party chairman.)

Knox praised the other candidates - U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, State Rep. Dwight Evans, even Brady.

"I think they all would have tried to do what's best for Philadelphia," Knox said. "I just think you needed somebody who was going to bring real and meaningful reform to the city, and that me and Michael were the two people who can do that best."

Nutter is "an honest guy and his heart's in the right place and he wants to do well for the city of Philadelphia, I do believe that," Knox said. As the party nominee in a heavily Democratic city, Nutter is the odds-on favorite to win election in November.

Asked whether he was disappointed, Knox said getting a reformer into City Hall was part of his goal - "I wanted to do that." He added: "I've been in business a long time. I understand what it's like to not make it; it's not my first time that I didn't win."

Along with his reform message, it was Knox's own story - of growing up poor in public housing and working his way to wealth, first by selling insurance and then by turning around troubled companies - that nearly vaulted him to the nomination.

He said he was surprised by the ferocity of the campaign and the scrutiny that his past business practices underwent, particularly the attacks on high-interest "payday" loans that a bank he owned once made.

"We didn't do it to prey on people," he said. "We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do for people at the time. In my business career, I thought I did the right thing all the time."

He blamed his defeat on the work of the independent political committees that focused sharp attacks on his reputation.

He also said he believed the press had subjected him to "much harder scrutiny" than his rivals - particularly Nutter, who was endorsed by most local newspapers, including The Inquirer. He singled out The Inquirer's editorial page editor, Chris Satullo, for a May 6 column offering "10 great reasons to say no to Knox" - which he called "pretty unfair."

Knox said he hopes Nutter calls him about two of his campaign ideas - a plan to build 40 health-care centers and an after-school program to reward children for learning life skills. But he does not expect to work in a Nutter administration. On Tuesday night, Knox said he envisioned himself only as a chief executive - mayor or governor.

When the question of future campaigns came up that night, Knox's wife, Linda, voiced great dismay. But Knox did not rule it out yesterday.

"She doesn't want me to do it," he said of his wife. "Bless her. But you know, who knows what I'll do? That's election night, there's a lot of sweat and tears and hard work . . . and people say something on election night that they might change. I don't think she's changed, actually - yet."

Knox said he would take some time off and might explore business opportunities, including investment banking.

He said he had no regrets.

Well, perhaps one: He said he was not happy with whoever distributed anonymous leaflets at Catholic churches on Sunday claiming Knox was the only true Catholic in the race, and disparaging Nutter and Brady. Knox insisted someone outside his campaign did it as a favor without his knowledge.

"Those types of favors, you don't need," he said.