ANTHONY HARDY Williams is in a great mood.

He's relaxed. He's smiling. He's joking around.

Initially, I wonder why. Recent news on his run for mayor isn't all that positive.

Just last week his campaign agreed to pay an $8,000 fine after the city's Board of Ethics found he violated campaign laws.

There've been many references to backing by "Main Line billionaires" supporting charter school expansion.

His wife's $112,000-a-year job working with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the fracking industry, got some unflattering attention.

And there's a steady suggestion he's a front-runner only because he's black (52 percent of city voters are African-American) and supported by big-money special interests through independent expenditures.

Contrast this with news on two other top-tier candidates, which has pretty much been that Lynne Abraham is fine, fit and ready to rumble even after her on-air tumble, and that Jim Kenney has picked up yet another round of union endorsements.

Williams chuckles. He suggests that news on other candidates sometimes looks like "some people put down their pens and pick up their pom-poms."

Ba-bam!

We're sitting on a marble bench along a fountain in the atrium of the east wing of the Capitol.

It's a building Williams has served in for 26 years.

To be blunt, he hasn't exactly been a rock star during that time, at least not like past city dynamos such as Vince Fumo and John Perzel. But then they went to prison.

To be fair, Williams led more recent efforts to extend local sales and cigarette taxes for city schools.

But now we're talking about how the 58-year-old West Philadelphia Democrat, son of the late state Sen. Hardy Williams, expects to become the city's next mayor.

"I wouldn't trade my position in the race with any other candidate," he says.

His campaign, he says, has raised more than any other, started sooner, works harder, and has a good message and a broader base.

I ask why he wants to be mayor.

"Because I want to be a chief executive. I've been a legislator for a long time, but that's not a person who sets policy and is held accountable. I think I have a vision and a plan for Philadelphia."

Yeah, but what about that finance violation; billionaire backing and the perception that it means draining public schools to feed charters; the wife's gig?

"When I walk into a barbershop you think they're asking about any of those things?"

OK, so he's got the barber vote.

His camp says the finance stuff was mixing state and local laws and unintended accounting errors, and he says he paid rather than drag out an argument.

On schools, he says, "I've delivered more money to education than anybody running but I can't control the spin people put on it."

On his wife's gig, he notes he backs a severance tax on frackers, has a strong environmental record and, "I can assure you when she whispers in my ear at night, it ain't about fracking."

On "racial math," he says, "I think it's sad people characterize it that way." His campaign slogan, "One Philadelphia," is intended to debunk it. And he says campaign-finance reports soon will show a significant base of support among businesspeople who are white and among the Jewish community.

Reports are due May 8. The primary election is May 19.

When I ask what he's proudest of during his tenure, he thinks then says a diversity apprenticeship program started back in the 1990s to match minorities with labor trades: "I run into people today who benefited from that."

When I ask about priorities as mayor, he mentions working with City Council and the school district to organize efforts in Harrisburg and Washington, and opening a D.C. office for the city to work harder with agencies for city grants.

Williams in his youth never expected to run for office. But he's served in the House and Senate, is a longtime ward leader in West and Southwest Philly and now seeks the mayoralty of the nation's fifth largest city.

And he's doing so, it seems, in a pretty good mood.

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