State Rep. Dwight Evans stood before a roomful of Democratic committee people Monday and reminded the party workers of the last time he brought an unexpected candidate around with his endorsement.
"Nobody knew who Tom Wolf was in January 2014," Evans told the crowd at Relish Restaurant in West Oak Lane. "Nobody had a clue."
The reference to the current governor was a not-so-subtle nod to Evans' political savvy and a fitting prelude to what came next, when Evans and a quartet of other prominent African American elected officials from the city's Northwest endorsed James F. Kenney for the Democratic nomination for mayor.
The group included City Councilwomen Marian B. Tasco and Cindy Bass, and State Reps. Cherelle L. Parker and Stephen Kinsey, as well as a half-dozen ward leaders.
The endorsement by what is known as the Northwest Coalition represents a significant boost for Kenney in the African American community. And that could be critical for Kenney in a campaign in which his chief opponent increasingly is seen as State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, himself a prominent African American elected official.
Evans and Tasco in particular have a reputation of being able to deliver votes for candidates they endorse, although their electoral strength was not enough to see Evans nominated when he ran for mayor in 1999 and 2007. Still, in this instance, it could play a crucial role in what could be a close contest.
A poll conducted on behalf of Kenney last week had Kenney and Williams in a statistical dead heat, 26 percent to 25 percent, trailed by Lynne M. Abraham at 20 percent. T. Milton Street Sr., Doug Oliver, and Nelson Diaz all were in single digits.
"This election is going to be won block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood," Evans said.
In throwing his weight behind Kenney, Evans listed a number of stands Kenney has taken that have been well-received in the black community. He is against the Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, for instance, and he led the fight to end arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, which have disproportionately affected young African American men.
Tasco served with Kenney for 23 years on Council. She described him as a man with "a good heart."
"He was the kind of person we could work with in City Council," she said.
Without mentioning Kenney's race directly, each speaker acknowledged it in subtle ways, most by repeatedly assuring the African American audience that, in Parker's words, "he won't forget that all people in all neighborhoods matter."
Kenney said he was "overwhelmed and humbled" by the support.
"I appreciate the confidence you have shown in me today," he said. "I will work every day to show I am worth that confidence."