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A 3-way heat but no sure thing in Fourth District

Nutter's replacement, an "old-school" campaigner, and a policy whiz are engaged in a real horse race.

Matt McClure
Matt McClureRead more

For years, Democratic Councilwoman Carol Campbell made a living getting other people elected. Mindful of the Election Day muscle she represented, candidates would routinely hand over five-figure checks for her services.

And, typically, Campbell delivered the win.

But now, Campbell is trying to get herself elected, and it's far from certain that she will succeed.

She faces two well-organized challengers in the Democratic primary for the Fourth Council District, Curtis Jones Jr. and Matt McClure. The three are fighting over Michael Nutter's former seat, a position that Campbell won in a November special election after she was nominated for the post by fellow ward leaders.

But by her own admission, Campbell hasn't put much energy into holding on to the office.

"I really haven't put on a campaign. I've done my job of serving the constituency, and that takes all my time," she said in an interview yesterday. "I wasn't born in Council, I don't have to die in Council."

She has certainly taken her share of lumps while there.

The city's new Ethics Board is investigating several political action committees with ties to Campbell - a move she considers dastardly and politically motivated - and her record has been very publicly attacked by her opponents.

Campbell, who is also secretary of the city Democratic Committee, called it "a conspiracy to try to knock the Democratic Party down."

She wouldn't elaborate.

During her five months in office, Campbell said, she had focused intently on problems within the district and on expanding rights for the disabled.

It's an agenda that doesn't impress McClure and Jones, both of whom appear to have strong electoral bases of their own. Indeed, in a clear sign that the candidates are in a true three-way race, Jones and McClure spend as much time critiquing each other as they do the incumbent.

Jones is a longtime supporter of mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah's, and former head of the Philadelphia Commercial Development Corp. He has run what he calls an "old-school" campaign - stopping by block parties and relying on volunteers to make thousands of calls to voters.

Like Fattah, Jones emphasizes educational opportunity and creating "career paths out of poverty," even if it means slightly increasing property taxes during the upcoming citywide reassessment.

He also bills himself as the candidate who is "uniquely qualified" to represent a diverse district that includes Gov. Rendell's block and "the homeless guys on Market."

"I've dealt with the Manayunk Business Association on development issues, and I've also been a counselor at the House of Umoja, dealing with young adolescent males," said Jones. "It's OK to read a book about it, see what the scholars are saying about it at Harvard, but Harvard is different than Haverford Avenue."

It was a not-so-subtle suggestion that McClure would not represent the district's African American neighborhoods as well as Jones.

"I'm not quite sure what Curtis is talking about, other than I'm white, and I hope he's not talking about that," said McClure. "This is not a district where race trumps all."

McClure, who did not attend Harvard University, said that he had campaigned extensively in majority African American neighborhoods, and that he expected significant support from many of them.

A real estate lawyer at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, McClure has received plenty of financial support from other lawyers, but he's also been given a major boost by hundreds of small donors. His war chest is far larger than Jones', but not a match for Campbell's.

McClure worked briefly in the mayor's office when Rendell was in City Hall, and later at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

He has talked about the need for a more ethical City Hall, stressed aiding the middle class, and said he was the "only candidate to talk about" Fairmount Park, which is a major presence in the district.

McClure's campaign has also issued a series of policy papers that rival those of some mayoral candidates in their depth and breadth, and it's clear that he does not consider it enough to tend to just the district's needs.

"We have a very parochial City Council that does not deal with the bigger issues," McClure said. "You need to do both, the district and the city."

But he's not counting out Carol Campbell, and neither is Jones.

She had $133,000 (compared with McClure's $80,000) in her campaign account last week, which is more than enough to pay for the Campbell specialty: a stellar election day operation.

Still, as Campbell acknowledged, she isn't helping her own cause much. Yesterday she introduced several bills in Council that would give St. Joseph's University the permission it needs to expand and renovate its campus.

"I'm going to take a lot of heat for it," Campbell said, noting the animosity that many district voters feel toward the university. "But if I have to fall on my sword, so be it."