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January 12, 2015

Clarke out as mayoral candidate

Wants to represent his district for a fifth term

Mayoral Race Darrell Clarke
Carroll - City Hall and Benjamin Franklin Parkway Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Philadelphia City Hall from the Parkway.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke announced today that he will not seek the Democratic nomination for mayor.

 Instead, the longtime councilman said he hopes to serve a fifth term representing the city’s Fifth District.

 “It is my intention to seek the Democratic nomination to serve a fifth term as representative of Philadelphia’s 5th Councilmanic District in the May primary election,” Clarke said in a statement. “I have been honored and inspired by many conversations with neighborhood citizens, business, union and political leaders who asked me to consider running for mayor, but being mayor has never been my primary goal.”

 Clarke was expected to be a major player had he chosen to enter the mayoral race.

 That leaves six candidates who have either formally entered the race or stated their intent to do so shortly: former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, former City Solicitor Kenneth Trujillo, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, former Michael Nutter press secretary Doug Oliver, former Court of Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz and Milton Street Jr., the brother of former Mayor John Street.

 Another candidate could still enter the race, but time is running out. The mayoral primary is May 19.

 Political pundit Larry Ceisler said Clarke’s decision provides a boost to the campaign of Williams, who could carry the African-American demographic.

 From a numbers standpoint, Ceisler said, the race is “Tony Williams’ to lose,” although he still viewed Abraham as the frontrunner. But Ceisler stressed that being the frontrunner is no sure thing in Philadelphia politics.

 “I can tell you that the rule – rather than the exception – is the presumed frontrunner does not necessarily end up being the nominee,” Ceisler said. “I would say, today, it’s good news for Tony Williams. I think it’s good news for Doug Oliver, also.

“I think labor has to decide where they’re going to be. I think they’ll be in different places.”

Asked to comment on the effect Clarke’s decision had on the race, the Williams campaign did not directly respond. The campaign issued a statement praising Clarke for addressing public education funding and welcoming future opportunities to partner with City Council.

"I've known Council President Darrell Clarke for years, and I consider him a friend as well as a respected colleague,” Williams’ statement said. "I look forward to continuing our work together on the issues that all Philadelphians care about: providing every child with a great education, ensuring every neighborhood is safe, and growing our economy."

Organized labor was expected to coalesce around Clarke in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the 2007 mayoral campaign, when the city’s unions split their support among the candidates.

 Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said Clarke called him before making his announcement.

 “I have to respect that,” Gillespie said. “He’s one of the few people who are an aspirant for the job and understand what the job is and understand the demands for the job.”

 Gillespie said the unions hope to avoid of repeat of 2007, stressing they need to allocate their resources in a “more prudent way.”

 “As limited as our influence is, you don’t want to dilute it,” Gillespie said. “The little bit of influence that we have you want to make sure that we concentrate it where it’s most effective.”

 Gillespie said the unions had not agreed on another candidate to support.

 “We have until March,” Gillespie said. “There’s no rush, although the candidates who are out there would love to leverage unions so they could advance. But I don’t see a lot of utility in that.”

 Clarke’s announcement also leaves the door open for city controller Alan Butkovitz and Councilman James Kenney to enter the race, according to David Thornburgh, chief executive officer of the Committee of Seventy. Yet, if they’re going to join, he said they better decide soon.

 “The primary is four months away,” Thornburgh said. “It feels odd that the field hasn’t settled down yet. Also, if you’re going to join in at this point, you’ve lost a lot of fundraising time. That is also a major factor in deciding the race.

 “I think they have to come to one conclusion or the other pretty quickly. Because the clock is ticking.”

 Clarke will look to continue representing the Fifth District, which includes the neighborhoods of North Central Philadelphia, Strawberry Mansion, Ludlow, Yorktown, West Poplar, Fairhill, Brewerytown, Francisville, Spring Garden, Fairmount, Logan Square and portions of Northwood, Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Center City.

 “During my years of public service, it has been my goal to secure opportunities for every resident of the 5th District and the City of Philadelphia,” Clarke’s statement read. “While we have made significant gains, there remains much to be done. In City Council I will stay focused on the important work that stands before us.

 “Our city has challenges as significant as its opportunities. We can and must strengthen educational opportunities for our children. We need to focus on making every neighborhood a neighborhood of choice. It’s our duty to invest in our infrastructure, creating jobs for today’s workers and tomorrow’s. We must continue to work toward ensuring affordable housing for everyone and making sure all our streets are safe.

 “Serving on City Council, one of the most substantive and hardworking legislative bodies in our city’s history, is a sincere privilege. We passed legislation making significant investment in our schools. Working together on our income inequality initiative, we lowered the wage tax, introduced paid sick leave, protected homeowners from exploding real estate tax bills, and began the implementation of Council’s workforce housing initiative.

 “I will be grateful for another opportunity to serve the people of the 5th District and our neighbors throughout Philadelphia.”