HARRISBURG - State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, who has represented Philadelphia for 20 years in the General Assembly, made it official yesterday: He is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

In his first public announcement, Williams said that he was seeking the nomination as a centrist and that he had raised nearly $2 million in campaign contributions in less than a month.

Williams had been speaking at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon yesterday as though the audience knew he was in the race, with less than three months before the May 18 primary.

But it took moderator John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News to nail him down. "If you are serious about running, why not announce?" he asked.

To which Williams replied, "I did declare," adding with a smile, "I am out of the closet."

This month, at the Democratic State Committee meeting in Lancaster, Williams told reporters that he had filed papers with the Department of State to begin raising money for a race - generally a signal that a declaration of candidacy was near. His comments were overshadowed by the committee's endorsement of U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter for reelection.

Williams, 52, expands the Democratic field to four candidates again after the departure last week of Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.

Also running are Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, and state Auditor General Jack Wagner.

In response to a question about U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak's contention that the Obama administration offered him a job if he would not run against Specter in the Democratic Senate primary, Williams said he was not running to "extract" anything from the other candidates.

"I have the second-highest funding raised on the Democratic side in the shortest amount of time," he said. "There were no deals presented to me and nothing they could offer me."

Even without the official announcement, Williams took third place in the state committee endorsement vote Feb. 6 behind Wagner and Onorato, thanks to overwhelming support from Philadelphia delegation.

Williams, who had supported Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox for governor, said he began to explore entering the race around the time Knox bowed out in late January.

Williams, son of the late Sen. Hardy Williams, enters the campaign with deep Philadelphia political roots and a solid base of support in the southeast (he also represents part of Delaware County), but little to no name recognition in the rest of the state.

Yesterday, Williams' brief remarks were decidedly mid-state in focus and middle-of-the-road in tone. He said he would be an independent candidate who would fight for more jobs, better education, and property-tax cuts.

Williams is the first major black Democratic candidate for governor since Rep. Dwight Evans ran in 1994. Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006.

A longtime advocate of school choice, Williams bemoaned the state of education in Pennsylvania and said the state does a poor job of tailoring educational programs to the job market.

"If a school doesn't work, it should not exist," said Williams, who attended both private and public schools.

Williams, who said he needed at least $4.5 million to run television ads, declined to reveal the sources of his donations, saying only it was a "diverse" mix of groups, businesses, and individuals. But he said some donations came from nontraditional Democratic sources, including school-choice proponents and union opponents.

He does not have to reveal who they are until the next campaign contribution filing deadline, April 6.

On his late entry, Williams said he did not think he had lost any ground to candidates of either party, adding that a Franklin and Marshall College poll showed 72 percent of people in Pennsylvania do not even know there is a governor's race.

Anthony Williams

Age: 52

Education: Franklin and Marshall College Member of state House, 1989-98; state Senate, Eighth District, 1999-present


Family: Wife, Shari; two daughters, Asia and AutumnEndText

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.