Reflecting the divisiveness nationwide in the Democratic race for president, many Philadelphia ward leaders are disinterested in formally backing either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama for fear of further splintering the city's Democratic Party.

"What would an endorsement do but set people against each other?" asked City Controller Alan Butkovitz, whose 54th Ward includes Oxford Circle.

That concern extended to University City, where 27th Ward leader Carol Jenkins said, "I think it will come down to racial divisions, and that is not a helpful situation for City Committee itself, and not a good thing for unity in the long term."

To date, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the party chairman, has not said with certainty whether any endorsement is forthcoming from the Democratic City Committee, which is composed of the 69 ward leaders. He did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Three weeks ago, after a well-attended City Committee meeting in which former President Bill Clinton spoke on behalf of his wife, Brady said both candidates should address the group in person if they seek its backing.

That now appears scheduled to happen. On April 14 - eight days before the Pennsylvania primary - a 250-person tent will be set up outside the Sheet Metal Workers Hall on Columbus Boulevard, where the City Committee is scheduled to host its annual Jefferson-Jackson cocktail party.

For $1,000 a person, Brady told ward leaders in a recent letter, they and anyone else can socialize in the tent for two hours with Clinton and Obama.

Neither campaign this week would confirm that the candidates would attend.

For Clinton and Obama, a City Committee endorsement would probably carry little weight because swaying voters in a presidential race is difficult. The only practical advantage, political consultant Larry Ceisler said, might be logistical, in that the Democratic machinery might "help get people to the polls, make sure there is no trouble at the polls, and be the eyes and ears on the ground."

That is probably not enough to make either campaign press too hard for an endorsement, which goes well with the sentiment voiced this week by ward leaders.

"I would personally prefer that City Committee does not endorse," said Rosanne Pauciello, leader of Ward 39A, reflecting the sentiment of a dozen other ward leaders interviewed this week.

With contested races for the state House and Senate in her South Philadelphia ward, Pauciello said she feared alienating voters if City Committee endorsed a presidential candidate they opposed. And that means risking that voters might throw out a ward's entire ballot of endorsed candidates in other races.

The top of a ticket matters, Democratic Party secretary Carol Ann Campbell said. "Ballots cost thousands of dollars, and they would just pitch our ballots in the trash if they didn't have on them who they wanted," she said.

Partly for that reason, Campbell, who is also West Philadelphia's Fourth Ward leader, said she doubted that City Committee would endorse either Obama or Clinton. "That's just my thought," she said.

As City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, leader of Northwest Philadelphia's 50th Ward, put it: "None of what we say is going to matter at the end of the day, so why put people through a tortuous battle?"

Although the feeling against endorsement may be widespread, it is not unanimous.

"I tend to think it is probably better to make an endorsement. I think that's what we are supposed to do," said ward leader John O'Connell, whose Ninth Ward includes Chestnut Hill. "I know Brady would rather not endorse in this type of election, but I'm kind of old-fashioned that way. If somebody has a majority of the votes, they should be endorsed and we should all live with it."

Among some ward leaders, the prospect of not endorsing raises concerns about how they will fund traditional Election Day activities such as printing ballots, providing doughnuts and lunches for Election Day workers, and paying drivers to take elderly voters to the polls.

"I'm running myself, so I'll probably have to fund those" activities," said State Rep. Rosita Youngblood, leader of the 13th Ward, who hopes to retain her House seat in the Ogontz neighborhood.

"Resources will be needed to make sure they get out the vote. They will have to get it from somewhere," said Manayunk's Ralph Wynder, leader of the 38th Ward.

Some ward leaders suggested some of those dollars would come from money raised at the forthcoming City Committee event.

"There's nothing in recent memory to compare this election to," O'Connell said. "We're all kind of flying by the seat of our pants."

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.