In an unexpected twist in the race to elect Philadelphia's next mayor, State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) says he is giving serious thought to joining the field.
Evans, who has twice run unsuccessfully for mayor, said his interest has been bolstered by a poll he commissioned in October that showed him running second in a race for the 2015 Democratic nomination among the six most likely or announced candidates at the time. He trailed only former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, according to an aide who has seen the poll and spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Some people have approached me about running, and that is why I conducted the poll last month," Evans said Thursday. "I'm pretty optimistic as a result of the poll. I generally think this could be a time of great opportunity for the city."
With the poll numbers in hand, Evans said, he is talking to potential supporters.
"I'm having conversations with people to see if there is an avenue to look at in this mayor's race," he said. "I'm looking, thinking, seeing what kind of political and financial support there might be."
He said he hoped to have his answers within the next few weeks.
A candidacy by Evans would radically alter the calculus of the campaign as envisioned by those in the race or weighing a run.
To date, the announced candidates in the May 19, 2015, Democratic primary field are Terry Gillen, former executive director of the Redevelopment Authority; Ken Trujillo, former city solicitor; State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams; and Abraham. Abraham and Williams announced on Wednesday.
The poll commissioned by Evans included those four as well as potential candidates City Controller Alan Butkovitz and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. Butkovitz said this week he most likely would skip the contest. Clarke remains noncommittal.
In all of the talk, Evans' name has been noticeably absent. Until now, he has expressed no public interest in another run for mayor.
Evans, 60, has served in the House since 1980, representing the 203d District, which encompasses West Oak Lane - a neighborhood he is credited with rescuing. He has run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor (1986), governor (1994), and mayor (1999 and 2007). In his last run for mayor, he finished fifth, taking 7.82 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary won by then-City Councilman Michael Nutter. The loss was particularly telling in that Evans is known as having one of most successful Election Day operations in the city.
This past election cycle, Evans was an early and outspoken supporter of Gov.-elect Tom Wolf. As a result, he has perhaps the strongest ties of any local elected official with the state's next chief executive, a selling point he is likely to use should he run for mayor.
"Yes, I have a very good relationship with [Wolf]. I was a strong supporter of his," Evans said. "But I have not sat down with him and asked if he would support me in this. He has his hands full right now."
One of the advisers Evans has been speaking with is lawyer Carl Singley, who has been a past supporter and is a longtime player in local politics. Singley counts himself among those urging Evans to run.
"He really is, in an almost corny kind of way, a dedicated public servant," Singley said. "He wants to make people's lives better. That is all he wants to do."
One point of hesitation, however, is how bruising a campaign might be, Singley said.
In recent years, Evans has seen his once-sterling reputation somewhat tarnished by state investigators' findings that public funds had been misused by a community development corporation he founded, and reports that he improperly used his position on behalf of a favored charter school.
Evans has maintained that he had no active role in the corporation, and that his behavior in regard to the charter school was aboveboard.
Still, he could expect to be the target of scathingly negative campaign ads.
"Dwight is a good friend and like a son to me," Singley said, explaining that he shared a concern about the nature of the campaign. "People are going to be doing opposition research. He is going to have to be prepared to go through a very grueling process."
Whatever concerns he might have, Evans sounded upbeat.
"I feel like I am in a pretty good position," he said. "I still have a long way to go. Where you start is not necessarily where you end up. You just try to put together your message and organization, raise your money, and try to connect with people who think your candidacy has something to offer the city. I think mine would."