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Building bridges: Kenney forgives Williams' absence at Democratic unity breakfast

Philadelphia's Democratic ward leaders united Thursday behind former City Councilman James F. Kenney for mayor - with one noteworthy exception.

Philadelphia's Democratic ward leaders united Thursday behind former City Councilman James F. Kenney for mayor - with one noteworthy exception.

State Sen. Anthony H. Williams did not attend a unity breakfast meeting organized by U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, the Democratic Party's city chairman.

Williams, who finished a distant second to Kenney in last week's Democratic mayoral primary, leads the Third Ward in West Philadelphia.

He was absent as other ward leaders ate scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage while listening to short speeches in the Sheet Metal Workers union hall on Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia.

Williams said Wednesday that he did not know about the breakfast meeting, received no invitation, and had no plans "to crash the party."

Brady said after the breakfast that Williams had received an invitation. "There's no question he knew about it," Brady said.

Williams on Thursday afternoon chalked up his absence to miscommunication about the invitation and insisted no political animosity was at play.

"I'm not mad at James F. Kenney," Williams said. "He didn't do anything to me. He ran an election."

More than 50 people attended the breakfast, including three members of City Council, two state senators, and City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

Mayor Nutter told the ward leaders that Brady organized a similar breakfast for him in 2007. Nutter, who is also a ward leader, bested Brady and three other major candidates in that year's mayoral primary.

Nutter said Kenney would need "the kind of broad citywide support that it takes to run a crazy town," even with the 7-1 voter registration advantage Democrats hold over Republicans in the city.

"It is really important to have full party support," Nutter said. "I know what our registration advantage edge is, but there's still an election in November."

Republican Melissa Murray Bailey was unopposed in her party's primary election for mayor.

Kenney took the high road, noting that he, Williams, and the primary's four other candidates - former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham; Nelson A. Diaz, a former judge; former Philadelphia Gas Works executive Doug Oliver; and former State Sen. T. Milton Street Sr. - had just finished a long campaign season.

"People take some time off," he said. "I assume that's what it is, and I wish him well with the time he's taking off to recharge and get back in the game. We need him in Harrisburg when it comes to school funding and all the other issues we're facing."

Williams said he expected to speak eventually with Kenney both as a ward leader and a state senator. "This is about James F. Kenney," he said of the breakfast. "It's not about me."

Kenney struck a conciliatory tone with the ward leaders as well, acknowledging that many had backed his rivals for mayor. He said Brady - who had supported Williams - was a longtime friend.

"Understand, I don't burn a bridge," Kenney said. "We need every bridge to every ward, to every elected official, in order to make this work."

Kenney pledged never to interfere with the party's politics, and to assist when asked for help. And he said there would be no political payback.

"There's no real place in this world, in this city, in this government, for that kind of retribution," he said. "There will be none."


Inquirer staff writer Claudia Vargas contributed to this article.