In what amounted to the first real salvo of the 2015 mayor's race Thursday, former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham chose to target not any of her announced opponents, but City Council President Darrell L. Clarke.
She did so for Clarke's refusal to hold Council hearings on a now-dead bill to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works to the Connecticut energy firm UIL for $1.86 billion.
Outside Clarke's City Hall office, Abraham said he was "not a leader," and challenged him to resurrect the expired deal by inviting UIL to come back to Philadelphia for a hearing on the proposal. Last week, UIL announced it had abandoned the sale.
"If I were the mayor I would go there myself," she said, referring to UIL's headquarters in New Haven, Conn., "and say, please come back. That is what leadership is all about."
Hours later, Clarke, having just finished a long final session of Council for the year, was dismissive of Abraham's critique. He noted she had recently attended a fund-raiser of his and did not speak to him about the issue.
"If she had something to say, why didn't she say it then?" he asked.
As for UIL's proposal, that is in the past, he said. His focus is now on options for PGW going forward, he said.
Abraham has seized on PGW as an issue for her nascent campaign. She issued a statement criticizing both Mayor Nutter and Clarke last week after UIL announced it was formally withdrawing its bid to buy the utility. UIL's decision came more than a month after Clarke announced that there was not enough support on Council even to hold hearings of the sale proposal.
"It is disheartening to say the least that this deal has been scuttled because of what appears to be a personality conflict," Abraham said, referring to the ongoing disconnect between Clarke and Nutter, who had proposed the PGW sale. "They should patch up their differences, whatever they are. They don't have to love each other. This is about the city of Philadelphia."
While taking no position on the value of UIL's proposal, Abraham said the city "should not be in the business of running a utility."
At this point, Abraham is the only candidate to be pushing the sale's collapse as a campaign issue.
She is among four announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor. The others are Terry Gillen, former head of the Redevelopment Authority; Ken Trujillo, a former city solicitor; and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.
Reach by phone Thursday, Gillen and Trujillo both said they thought Council should have held hearings on the proposed sale. Trujillo went further by suggesting that Abraham's saber-rattling was emblematic of the type of behavior that sank the deal.
"Political grandstanding and name-calling solve nothing," he said. "People understand that is not an effective way for a mayor to deal with City Council."
Williams could not be reached for comment.