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Knox says he backs Blackwell

Supporting her for Council president - and getting her backing - could help him in West Philadelphia.

Mayoral candidate Tom Knox has made City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell an offer she might not be able to refuse: the Council presidency.

At a meeting this week of West Philadelphia Democrats, Knox told the crowd that he favored making Blackwell the next Council president, according to several attendees. And two City Council challengers who are hoping for Knox's support - Sharif Street and Bill Green - said Knox had intimated he was supporting Blackwell for Council president.

It was unclear yesterday if Blackwell had committed herself to supporting Knox. She did not return calls to her office yesterday afternoon. In recent weeks she has said she had not decided whom to back.

Knox's campaign also did not respond to requests for comment.

Blackwell - an influential and often combative Council member - is Council's majority leader. In late 2003, she tried but failed to unseat Council President Anna Verna.

Getting her backing would give Knox a foothold in West Philadelphia, where the other major candidates have stronger ties and deeper support. It also would give him a powerful ally if he is elected.

But a deal with Blackwell, an entrenched incumbent and ethics-reform skeptic, could backfire on Knox, who has based his campaign on the need to clean out City Hall.

Two Democratic committee members who attended the meeting - Nancy Cox and Jim Moran - confirmed that Knox said Blackwell should be the next Council president.

Blackwell "acted like she supported" Knox but did not say she backed him for mayor, Cox said.

Green, an at-large City Council candidate, said members of Knox's campaign had approached him about supporting Blackwell. It would take a majority vote of Council members to install Blackwell as president.

"They have talked to me about it. I told them I'm not willing to make a commitment," said Green, who says he expects Knox will back him on May 15.

Through a spokesman, Street, also an at-large candidate, said Knox had not asked him to pledge his support for Blackwell. But he acknowledged that Knox was leaning toward backing Blackwell.

"As far as Sharif knows, Knox and Councilwoman Blackwell have a relationship, and they are discussing how to move that relationship forward," said Dale Wilcox, Street's spokesman. Wilcox said Street and Blackwell were "good friends."

Vern Anastasio, a Council candidate in the First District who is also hoping for Knox's support, said he and Knox had "never discussed" making Blackwell president.

Verna seemed unconcerned.

"My Council colleagues are aware of the dedication and fairness I've put into the job, and they will ultimately judge me on this record and not the words of a mayoral candidate," she said in a statement.