IS THE 2015 Philadelphia mayor's race effectively over?
An independent poll released yesterday contains a staggering amount of good news for former City Councilman Jim Kenney - he's leading the pack by a whopping 27 points - and a mountain of migraine-inducing numbers for state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.
The poll of 600 likely Democratic primary voters - commissioned by the Daily News, the Inquirer, Philly.com and NBC10 - shoots to hell most of Williams' strategies for getting into City Hall and points to a potential landslide for Kenney on Tuesday.
That's the same Kenney, by the way, who entered the race last, in late January, and was dismissed by former Gov. Ed Rendell as the "flavor of the week" with "no way" of winning as long as another white candidate, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, remained in the race.
Conventional wisdom had suggested that Williams, who is black, needed to win over a large chunk of African-American voters to secure the Democratic nomination in a six-way primary.
But yesterday's poll, conducted by National Research Inc., found that Kenney is the most popular candidate among likely black voters: 33 percent said they'd vote for Kenney, and 25 percent for Williams.
"Kenney is up slightly among African-American voters and he's up huge among white voters," said Adam Geller, CEO of the New Jersey-based Republican firm that conducted the poll.
This is very bad for Williams, the onetime mayoral front-runner with millions of dollars in PAC money supplied by a trio of Main Line financial gurus who advocate for school choice.
But wait. It gets worse.
Among those who ranked education as the election's most important issue - the same issue most closely associated with Williams' candidacy - 44 percent favored Kenney, while just 13 percent backed Williams.
"In the biggest issue that people care about, Kenney is just cleaning up among education voters," Geller said. "If that's not bad enough, Williams doesn't make that vote up anywhere else."
On jobs, crime and poverty, Williams also trails far behind Kenney - and behind Abraham, although to a lesser extent.
Now, for the bad part.
Kenney, a South Philadelphia native now living in Old City, has a higher favorability rating even on Williams' home turf of West Philadelphia.
"I think it's a 20-point race if the primary were held today," Geller said Tuesday, predicting that Kenney would prevail if his get-out-the-vote operation doesn't suffer a complete meltdown.
The poll's overall breakdown of likely voters: 42 percent for Kenney, 15 percent for Abraham, 15 percent for Williams, 5 percent for former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz, 3 percent for former Philadelphia Gas Works senior vice president Doug Oliver, 3 percent for former state Sen. Milton Street, 14 percent undecided.
Geller, however, cautioned that such a positive poll for the Kenney camp a week before the primary could backfire if his supporters "feel like this is in the bag."
"The last thing I would want is to make my supporters complacent," Geller said.
Poll respondents interviewed this week by the Daily News provide a window into the shifting numbers:
Daniel Meier, 45, a public-school teacher from West Mount Airy, said he was voting for Kenney over Williams because of Williams' association with Susquehanna International Group, the billionaire charter-school supporters who are backing his mayoral run and who pumped millions into his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2010.
"They're essentially creating a two-tier system," Meier said. "Public schools have to educate all children; charters can get rid of the behavior problems and the special-needs kids. They go back to the public schools, and we're the ones that are left to deal with it with fewer funds because the funds have been sent to charters."
Cristen Gilbert, 53, said she's leaning toward Williams, partly because her parents were Democratic committeepeople who once worked with Williams' late father, state Sen. Hardy Williams. But, Gilbert said, the younger Williams has failed to explain what exactly he stands for.
Gilbert, who lives in South Philadelphia, said she considers the TV ads run by Williams and his supporters "window dressing" and "marketing." So she remains undecided on whom she'll vote for.
"I love this city and would like to see a mayor who actually cares about more than his own circle of friends and looking good in front of the camera," Gilbert said.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll, said if Kenney is elected with significant support, the so-called racial math of past Philadelphia elections could become useless in future elections.
"If, in fact, a significant portion of the African-American vote is cast for Jim Kenney, it's a paradigm shift from what we've seen in the past," Madonna said. "My big surprise was the lack of support in the black community for Williams."
Mayor Nutter, who is black, was also successful in attracting support from white voters in 2007 and 2011 in a city where one's race was once a strong predictor of how they'd vote.
Poll respondent Deborah Crocker, 59, a black home-health aide from Northeast Philadelphia, said she's on the fence between Street and Kenney.
"I heard about Anthony Williams," she said. "I don't know too much about Anthony Williams."
Crocker said the race of the candidate isn't a factor for her.
"Race is not an issue in my eyes. Everybody needs to learn that," Crocker said. "We're all one kind."
Ironically, Williams' camp has complained recently on social media about the lack of independent poll data. Polls showing Kenney leading the race were conducted by organizations supporting his campaign.
Yesterday's poll also found that Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has a 78 percent favorability rating. Williams recently vowed to toss Ramsey out of police headquarters if he becomes mayor - a strategy that has been roundly criticized by local politicians, including Nutter, who suggested last week that Williams wasn't smart enough to be mayor.
Geller said the attack-Ramsey strategy may have been ill-advised.
"You know what? Don't pick on a popular guy when you're running in a primary where everyone likes the guy," Geller said.
Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said the campaign isn't taking anything for granted. "We're going to continue to work as hard as ever, along with the unprecedented, diverse coalition behind Jim's campaign to turn out the vote on election day," she said.
Williams said through spokesman Albert Butler: "Polls come and go, but what's been persistent is the education crisis in Philadelphia. That's what I've focused my career on; that's what I will focus on as mayor."
Abraham said through spokesman Sam Coleman: "We're going to let the voters decide."