Sam Katz, toying with a fourth run for Philadelphia mayor, has met in recent weeks with several influential African American leaders he would need to win over if he is going to exploit Mayor Nutter's apparent weakness with black voters.
"I urged him not to do it," said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP. Even if he won, Mondesire said, Katz would fail to gain the backing of a majority of City Council's 17 members. "He could not govern," he said. "It would be an almost impossible hurdle for him to achieve."
Along with Mondesire, Katz has also met with former Mayor John F. Street's campaign manager, Lana Felton-Ghee, lunching with her at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City.
"We did have a discussion about outreach for him being potentially the next mayor," said Felton-Ghee, an active player in African American religious circles who has been involved in every Philadelphia mayoral campaign since the 1970s.
There was no discussion of a timeline, she said, emphasizing that Katz was unclear whether he was considering a run next year, or in 2015.
Bilal Qayyum, a longtime African American community activist, was also among dozens of black religious, community, and political leaders who have met with Katz. Qayyum declined to discuss what the pair spoke about.
Among the others Katz met with were Edgar Campbell Jr., leader of a group of African American ward leaders, and the Rev. William Moore of the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.
"To try to divide and conquer really reflects old-style Philadelphia politics," said Richard Hayden, Nutter's political adviser. "You have one city, you have to represent everybody."
He added, "As a candidate, Mayor Nutter was the first person in a multicandidate field to draw support across neighborhoods, races, ages, and income."
In past elections, Katz, who is white, has had a dismal record when it comes to black support. In 1999, when he ran as a Republican, 2 percent of African American voters backed him. He did no better four years later, still under the GOP banner, drawing, again, just 2 percent.
Now he is being encouraged to run against Nutter - as a Democrat in next spring's primary - by Street, who beat Katz in both those elections and is a political foe of Nutter. Street in 1999 captured 94 percent of the black vote, and in 2003, he drew 98 percent.
Besides Katz, no other potential Democratic challengers have so far emerged.
Nutter, who is black, lags in popularity among African Americans when compared with white voters. Consistent with other surveys, a poll conducted Aug. 25 found 42 percent of African American voters rated Nutter's performance as "excellent" or "good," compared with 53 percent of white voters.
However, in a one-on-one race between Nutter and Katz, the poll, sponsored by the website PoliticsPA.com, found that 38 percent of blacks backed Nutter, compared with 26 percent who supported Katz. At the same time, both men drew almost equal support from whites, 39 percent for Nutter and 41 percent for Katz.
Neither Katz nor Street would comment for this story.
Katz has been reaching out to others in the last month as well, including his 2003 campaign spokeswoman, Maureen Garrity, who declined to comment.
In that election - among the costliest in Philadelphia history - Katz showed he had muscle when it came to raising campaign funds. He pulled in at least 19 separate contributions of $100,000 or more.
However, city rules now call for limits on how much donors can contribute - making it far more difficult to raise large sums quickly, and to compete with the $1.4 million that Nutter had on hand in his last campaign finance report.
The limits for donors to the next mayoral race are $10,600 a year for donations from political committees, and $2,600 a year from individuals. A successful businessman, Katz is free, like all candidates, to lend himself as much money as he wants.
"If he wants to do it, he has to make a decision and hold one or two major fund-raisers before Dec. 31," Republican Party leader Michael Meehan said.
Meehan recently arranged a coffee meeting with Katz - who ran on the GOP ticket in 1991 - to "get his thoughts on next year."
He added: "I was just feeling him out, first to see if he had any interest in running at all. I think he does."
Asked if Katz would run as a Republican, he said, "We left it open. He sees the difficulty in that with a dwindling Republican base." In the last election, registered Democrats in Philadelphia outnumbered Republicans 5-1.