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It's Abraham vs. the way things are

The former D.A. might have the grit to rule an unruly Philly, but she faces a fight and lots of questions in order to get the chance.

Lynne Abraham speaks during the mayoral forum at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 19, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )
Lynne Abraham speaks during the mayoral forum at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia on Wednesday, March 19, 2015. ( STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer )Read more

I THINK Lynne Abraham could be a terrific mayor.

Tough as tungsten. People first. Pain in the ass to City Council, unions, anybody else with power. Think of a female Fiorello La Guardia.

(For young'uns and non-history buffs, he was a feisty, 5-foot-nothin' mayor of New York in the '30s and '40s known for restoring trust to City Hall.)

Could be fun, no?

I just don't see how she gets elected.

Philly, after all, is a low-turnout town where campaigns are driven by ward leaders, racial math, unions and resources.

That's just the way it is. Too many citizens accept it. And the same problems with schools, crime and poverty persist until the next election, when the same sorts of candidates promise to fix them.

And maybe they can't ever be fixed.

But what if someone made people believe power can be used to more forcefully attack urban toxins rather than used, as it often is, to maintain the factors and factions that drive mayoral elections?

"I'm on a mission to rescue the city from the status quo," Abraham says during a far-ranging interview over a long lunch at (her choice) Center City's Capital Grille.

She says voters are disaffected and frustrated, the city's "poorly run," departments don't communicate, due taxes don't get collected and the political culture overshadows policy.

"The people know me, they know my heart," she says. "They know I'm faithful and fearless."

She calls herself an "insurgent candidate" in the May 19 Democratic primary.

I like insurgents. I like anyone fighting to change stuff that holds back a city, a state, a nation. It's just so demonstrably difficult.

And that's if one can get elected.

So in a race with (let's be honest here) Anthony Hardy Williams and Jim Kenney, how does Abraham win?

Williams, with his pro-charter money, and Kenny, with lots of union backing, will have more resources - especially from independent-expenditure groups.

Abraham says: "I won't accept dark money or outside money. I'm not for sale."

Admirable, sure, and a stand against the corrupting influence of big dollars in politics. It's just that big-dollar politics often win.

Her career's in law and justice: 15 years a judge, 19 years as district attorney.

The last two mayors came from Council - not that it's a breeding ground of brilliance - so opponents can argue that her issue experience is limited.

She's 74. Isn't she more about the past than the future?

"I've haven't stayed rooted in the past. . . . If you're a man and older, you're a statesman," she says. She later adds, "Except for annual checkups, I don't have a doctor for anything."

She's stubborn, they say, irascible, doesn't compromise.

" 'They're jealous and worried," she says. "I'm going to fight for the people of this city. In a man, they call that a commanding presence. In a woman, they call it a demanding presence. It's just nonsense."

Oh, and the woman thing? Can Philly elect a female mayor?

"After 334 years, I think it's time for a change, don't you?"

She grew up in a rented West Philly rowhouse, later West Oak Lane. She was one of two women in her Temple Law class. She worked for and stood up to Mayor Frank Rizzo, was the first woman elected to Municipal Court, served on Common Pleas Court and was the city's first (and so far only) female D.A.

You know that she's "one tough cookie" and that her fondness for the death penalty earned her the label of America's "deadliest D.A."

She famously took on the Catholic Church in one of America's most Catholic cities, impaneling a grand jury that found a child-sex-scandal coverup. And that was after ignoring advice from political people who told her not to go there.

She says that ignoring pols' advice and bucking her party are themes of her career.

Which is why she could be a terrific mayor, someone different, someone who says "no" to friends, someone who raises expectations, maybe even one day, a la Fiorello, gets an airport named after her. If she can get elected.