Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that several black civic leaders in Philadelphia spoke to the Inquirer editorial board about the mayoral campaign in general, and not any specific parts of the campaign.
After getting slammed with tough questions from all sides at recent mayoral debates, former Councilman Jim Kenney has been assumed by some to be the frontrunner in the race for mayor.
If that's true — and it's a big "if" — it's a perception fueled in part by the white mayoral candidate (one of two in this race, actually) locking down the endorsement of black ward leaders and legislators in a key chunk of Northwest Philadelphia one month ago.
The endorsement of the Northwest Coalition brought Kenney popular African-American legislators like state Rep. Dwight Evans and Marian Tasco, who have stumped for the former councilman in TV spots, and potential votes from several "super wards" — political districts where voters turn out strong in elections.
So how does a white guy from South Philly without a particularly strong connection to Evans and company land a deal like that?
First, there's $20,000. That's how much the Kenney campaign acknowledged this week that it had given to a Boston-based consulting group called the Liberty Square Group to support "GOTV [get out the vote] efforts for Jim" in the 50th Ward — Tasco's — and the 10th Ward since the endorsement.
"They are the two biggest turnout wards in the city, with a strong built-in field infrastructure, and it would have been less effective for us to try to build our own field effort than to coordinate our field team with theirs," campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said Wednesday. "In 2011 [for his Council re-election bid], Jim spent similar amounts on his field efforts in that area."
Hitt added that GOTV funding is commonly intertwined with political endorsements.
"That's traditional; we got money from all other candidates we endorsed that are running. We have to pay all the committeepeople, they work all day long. Look at the campaigns, all the campaigns do that," she said.
Tasco said she was unaware of the $10,000 Kenney had set aside for her ward.
"Maybe they have appropriated that. I'll take it," she said.
Others think Kenney, or his backers, may have promised more in return to the Northwest Coalition.
WHYY's Dave Davies reported last month that Councilwoman Cindy Bass and state Rep. Cherelle Parker, also part of the Coalition, had been promised support from Kenney's political backer, union leader John Dougherty. Other sources said that political action committees with ties to Dougherty had promised even more Election Day money than Kenney's own campaign, although a spokesman for Dougherty denied that allegation.
There are also those who say the endorsement wasn't really about another mayoral candidate, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams — or Kenney — at all.
"Marian [Tasco] was the force that got them to agree [on Kenney], because she wanted to help Derek Green," said Tommy Massaro, a veteran political operative, referring to Tasco's former chief of staff, who is running for an at-large Council seat.
Massaro said the feeling in the Northwest was that another mayoral candidate, Williams, would be the top vote-getter regardless of endorsement, with Kenney landing "20 to 25 percent of the vote" at most. And with another candidate, Lynne Abraham, splitting the white vote, Kenney — and Dougherty — might be more willing to shell out for electoral support.
Tasco denied Massaro's inference that Green was the driving factor behind the endorsement, saying he "wasn't at the table" when the deal was made.
But she didn't refute that Green was a factor. She alluded to Dougherty's quest to get his brother, Judge Kevin Dougherty, elected to state Supreme Court. It's an objective that some argue supersedes the South Philly union boss' support for Kenney.
"When you talk about the politics, there are tradeoffs. When you talk about tradeoffs, [John] Dougherty is talking about his brother, Kevin," Tasco said. "If you want to carry your guy, you gotta carry my guy. If I can get Kevin Dougherty to carry my Derek, I'll do it. But I like Kevin, I would endorse him even without that."
Coincidentally, this week, Bill Miller IV, a longtime African-American political consultant, approached the Inquirer's editorial board flanked by developer Kenny Gamble, former City Councilman George Burrell, and other black civic leaders to contest media coverage of the entire mayoral campaign, like Kenney's endorsement by the Northwest Coalition.
They argued that the glowing media coverage surrounding the endorsement, rather than the actual significance of the endorsement itself, had given Kenney an unfair edge in the race.
Individually, Miller said the Northwest Coalition had undermined decades of growing black political power by endorsing a white candidate. He seemed to imply that they did so in hopes of securing badly needed political funds.
"If you take a look at the campaign finance reports of Marian Tasco, of Dwight Evans since he was [House Appropriations] chairman, of Cherelle Parker, of [state Rep.] Steve Kinsey, I can tell you right now, they don't raise money," he said.
Tasco called the assertion "a bunch of hogwash."