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All Clout wants for Christmas are answers to big questions

We're waiting on details about the second casino license, Council President Darrell Clarke's plans, and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's future.

CLOUT CLOSES OUT 2014 with a final column of questions we hope to have answered in 2015.

At the top of our list right now:

Will the legal challenges filed yesterday by the three losing bidders for the city's second casino license lead to a real explanation of how the state Gaming Control Board broke a long logjam to vote for a winner last month?

The board on Nov. 18 gave the license to Live! Hotel & Casino, a partnership between Greenwood Racing Inc., which runs Parx Casino in Bensalem, and the Cordish Co., which owns a casino in Maryland and Xfinity Live! at 11th Street and Pattison Avenue.

Those investors plan a $425 million, 71,500-square-foot casino with restaurants, a parking garage, a hotel and a 1,000-seat live-music venue on Packer Avenue at Darien Street in South Philly.

Yesterday was the 30-day deadline for the losing bidders to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Those three projects were led by developers Bart Blatstein at Broad and Callowhill streets, Ken Goldenberg at 8th and Market and Joe Procacci at Front Street and Pattison Avenue.

All three accuse the Live! application of violating the state law that says a majority owner of one casino - Parx, in this case - can't own more than 33.3 percent of a second state casino license.

The board in February allowed the Live! investors to adjust their application's ownership structure to address that concern.

More interesting to us is the long pause taken by the politically appointed gaming board between receiving and reviewing the applications and picking a winner.

The board makes those decisions in private meetings known as "quasi-judicial deliberations."

That secrecy gave rise to rumors of political wrangling.

The board awarded the license two years and four days after the deadline to file applications.

The sudden announcement last month of a special meeting took the losing applicants by surprise.

The Nov. 18 meeting took just 27 minutes, with chairman Bill Ryan Jr. reading an 18-minute history of the application process. The vote took nine minutes.

The public learned little about the board's thinking that day.

The board, knowing that legal challenges were likely, declined to publicly discuss the process it used to select a winner. Instead, it released a 172-page decision that cited the winning project's proximity to the city's sports stadiums. It also called the project "right sized" and "not overbuilt."

Clarke: in or out?

Next question: Will City Council President Darrell Clarke seek a fifth term on Council in the May 19 Democratic primary election or enter the mayoral race?

Clarke has a go-to answer when asked if he is running for mayor.

"Not today," he tells people.

That answer has become a little too cute and coy for the city's Democratic Party players and political donors, who have grown tired of Clarke effectively freezing the field while he holds plenty of campaign fundraisers.

Clarke, at a fundraiser during last week's Pennsylvania Society gathering in New York City, told supporters that he'd have something to say around New Year's Day.

Is there a hint in that? What politician buries into a holiday weekend an announcement about a campaign for a new office?

The conventional wisdom is that Clarke won't run for mayor.

If true, that gives rise to a new question: Will City Controller Alan Butkovitz run for mayor?

Butkovitz is leaving that door open, despite announcing Nov. 17 that he would not run for mayor because Clarke would not declare his intentions. Butkovitz has said he would not seek the office if Clarke did.

Fattah's future?

If you just arrived in Philadelphia for the first time yesterday, things might look pretty swell for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.

Fattah last month won an 11th two-year term with 88 percent of the vote. He held a breakfast fundraiser Wednesday and opened a new district office yesterday.

Still, serious trouble seems to be looming in Fattah's future.

A key political aide and friend, Greg Naylor, pleaded guilty in federal court in August to repaying an illegal $1 million loan to Fattah's 2007 campaign for mayor with $600,000 in federal funds.

Fattah's former consultant Tom Lindenfeld pleaded guilty one day after the Nov. 4 general election to being in on the scam.

Federal court documents for Naylor and Lindenfeld describe the scam being directed by "Elected Official A." It doesn't take much detective work to determine that refers to Fattah.

The congressman has denied doing anything illegal and has suggested that federal agents "may have crossed the line" in their seven-year investigation.

The federal probe is sapping Fattah's resources. His latest campaign-finance report, filed two weeks ago, showed he had just $7,019 in the bank.

Fattah spent more than he took in during the reporting period, which covered Oct. 16 to Nov. 24, with $27,000 going to legal fees. That was three out of every four dollars he raised in the period.