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Spicing up the mayor's race

The so-far bland mayoral primary sure could use some oomph. Or do we need independent candidates to generate more interest?

Phil Goldsmith, former city managing director, former deputy mayor, former Inquirer and Daily News writer and former school district executive. (Eric Mencher)
Phil Goldsmith, former city managing director, former deputy mayor, former Inquirer and Daily News writer and former school district executive. (Eric Mencher)Read more

LET'S TALK about spicing up the mayor's race.

Lord knows it needs a little flavor.

So I'm soliciting ideas from the silly (a cheesesteak-eating contest?) to the sensational (candidates strapped to polygraphs questioning each other?).

Actually, either of those would be better than what we've seen so far.

I mean, how helpful is chatter about Milton Street's registration or residency?

Or whether Tony Williams' wife's job is an issue in his campaign?

We need to find, as Mayor Nutter might say, "a new day, a new way" for the race.

And, look, I get why things are dull.

Campaign-finance restrictions limit cash for TV ads that normally at this point would get some candidates and the race overall some attention.

Plus there are few issue differences among candidates. All want better schools, less poverty, less crime, etc.

Established pols - Williams, 26 years in the Legislature; Jim Kenney, 23 years on City Council; Lynne Abraham, 19 years as district attorney - aren't generating tons of enthusiasm.

Street and the lesser-known Nelson Diaz and Doug Oliver aren't exactly en fuego.

And it's not as if anyone's selling something big or drastically different from anything Nutter's done, tried or is doing.

So we get Philly shrugs: Guess black voters will elect Williams; guess union voters will elect Kenney; guess older voters will elect Abraham.


The best idea to improve city politics is advocated by Philly Renaissance man Phil Goldsmith, former city managing director, former deputy mayor, former Inquirer and Daily News writer, former school district executive and current purveyor of good ideas.

He says switch to nonpartisan elections.

That would allow all voters regardless of registration to have a say, as they do in 80 percent of America, including large cities such as Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. It would maybe even dilute the power of Philly's one-party politics.

Alas, too late for this cycle.

(As an alternative, Goldsmith suggests "maybe find a bug somewhere." Hey, it worked in 2003 when an FBI listening device found in then-Mayor John Street's office enlivened his race against then-Republican Sam Katz.)

So let's jump ahead.

If we can't pump up the contest now, it's possible the general election draws greater interest.

That's because depending on who wins this so-far-somnambulant primary, we could see one, two or more independent candidates jumping in.

The aforementioned Katz, who last month registered as an independent, is watching and commenting on his "Citizen Sam" website (

It's possible the former three-time mayoral candidate, onetime gubernatorial candidate could be a candidate again.

Then there's Bill Green, former City Council member, son of a former mayor, recent chairman (and still member) of the School Reform Commission.

Green last week changed his registration from Democrat to independent and told the Inky he's keeping options open regarding a possible bid.

Independents have until August to collect signatures to run in November.

And there could be another.

Ajay Raju, wealthy, smart, flamboyant, pro-business, mid-40s chairman of Dilworth Paxon, tells me, "There are business folks who are talking to me. . . . I would potentially explore it."

Right now he's studying candidates and "beginning to like" what the Williams campaign is saying. In fact, he says, "I would not run against Williams."

Kenney's another question.

Raju suggests a business candidate vs. Kenney, who has union support including teachers, hospital workers, firefighters, the AFL-CIO (and likely John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty's electrical workers), could "counterbalance union weight" by asking, "Do we want a city with that much union influence?"

After we talk, Raju sends an email stressing, "I have no plans to run right now."

Got it.

So right now we have a primary, which is wide open (as in a yawn), awaiting special-interest spending to at least spice it up. Unless you have other ideas.