WITH BOB Brady set to announce his entry into the mayor's race on Thursday, it seems like a good time to look at "conventional wisdom."
Such wisdom, which often ends up less than wise, suggests that a Brady candidacy has an immediate and forceful impact that can propel him into position to win on May 15.
This is based on broadly held views that he is (a) liked and respected by city politicos, (b) a white candidate with good standing in the nonwhite community, and (c) able to get money, ward leaders, major union endorsements, and good organization.
And I believe these things are true.
(I'd mention that while many thought Brady would not run, I wrote way back in July that he would be a candidate come '07.)
In addition, smart, battle-tested veterans of mayoral politics tell me that three serious African-American candidates (Chaka Fattah, Dwight Evans and Michael Nutter) will split the black vote to allow a leading white candidate to win the race with the support of a majority of white voters.
And maybe that's true, too. But here's the thing.
As I've suggested before, there's a better-than-even chance that this year won't be a conventional mayoral campaign.
I think this for three reasons.
First, there is, or will be, a great deal of interest in the outcome because the city sorely needs a solid leader with specific plans, especially in dealing with violent crime. The race will get more attention than usual.
Second, this campaign, unlike past mayoral contests, won't swing solely on the basis of race (polling already shows multiple candidates with cross-racial appeal) and includes multiple candidates who can win.
And, third, voters in Pennsylvania and the nation last election showed that when they're unhappy with the direction of their governance, they vote for change.
My sense is, because of spikes in violent crime, pay-to-play, and aloof leadership from City Hall, people are unhappy with the direction of the city.
So the atmosphere will be different. Voters will be attracted to change.
Brady? We have no idea what kind of candidate he'll be.
Seems to me, for example, as soon as he announces (Thursday, 5 p.m. at the Convention Center), he loses his greatest asset - his ability to bring people together to attack problems based on positioning himself as a broker, not a beneficiary.
Once he's a candidate, he'll be viewed as working in his own interest.
Also, any reminder of politics past (say, for example, an indictment of pal Vince Fumo) raises questions about whether Brady, a 20-year leader of the local party, can serve as an agent of change.
And, as a pragmatic problem-solver, I wonder how well Brady can outline a vision for the city and reasons for his candidacy, reasons that go beyond running because longtime friends and allies want him to.
Rest of the field?
Frontrunner Fattah seems somewhat trapped in Congress.
I'm impressed with the aggressive, substantive Evans schedule.
Ditto for Nutter, who seems especially quick-footed (last week he jumped on Gov. Ed's comprehensive health-care proposals with a related event within 24 hours after details were announced).
Tom Knox is working the whole city, going to black churches, dinner and a movie in North Philly last Friday, and still promising to spend $10 million to $15 million of his own money, which is a lot more than others can spend, since they have new spending limits that don't apply to rich guys.
And I still don't think John Dougherty gets in (or, if he does, stays in).
All of which is to offer two main points: Brady makes a big splash getting into the pool, and it'll be interesting to see just how well he swims. *
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