Knox & Blackwell ponder alliance

Both seen benefiting from association

20070501_dn_0jhc637l
Tom Knox and Jannie Blackwell talk yesterday at Democratic City Committee rally.

OK, Philadelphia, how about this for a leadership team - Mayor Tom Knox and City Council President Jannie Blackwell?

You'd have your gender and racial balance.

You'd have an outsider in the mayor's office with visions of changing the old politics teamed up with an insider Council president with strongly held views on neighborhood development and government services.

In short, you'd have a partnership aiming to repeat the successful alliance that Ed Rendell and John Street, the original odd couple, formed in the 1990s.

But unlike that arranged marriage, which came after the election and developed into genuine political affection, Knox and Blackwell are coming together before the primary in an alliance that could help them both win.

For Knox, it could be votes in predominantly African-American wards in West Philadelphia, where the Blackwell organization is formidable. For Blackwell, it could mean electing Council members who will support her for the presidency.

Of course, Council President Anna Verna stands in the way of these plans. Verna wants another term and both women have scenarios under which they would get the nine Council votes needed in January 2008 to take the president's office.

Tomorrow, Blackwell, 61, a four-term councilwoman, says she will make her endorsement for mayor. In the last few weeks, she said her choice had narrowed to Knox and Congressman Chaka Fattah. Yesterday, she wasn't hiding her warm feelings for Knox.

Blackwell is leader of the 46th Ward in West Philadelphia and when Knox showed up last week,she introduced him as her "friend" and said that he'd do a good job as mayor.

"Tom Knox came forward and said he was supporting me and he thought I'd be good, that I cared about people and am honest and that I'd be a good leader in Council and that he was supporting me as president," Blackwell said later.

Knox said yesterday that he hadn't talked to Blackwell about the presidency, "but I believe Jannie Blackwell would be a good president of City Council. I think she has the leadership qualities."

Knox rejected the notion that he was engaged in the kind of backroom politicking that he has decried.

"I'm not giving her one thing for another," Knox said. "I do believe that she's a qualified person. I do believe that she could do a good job, and I've gotten people in her district, that are high up in office, I mean we have some very high-ranking people in Philadelphia that have businesses in her district and they all think well of her."

Josh Morrow, Knox's campaign manager, said, "Tom Knox believes the city needs a City Council that will reject the pay-to-play politics of the past and restore our faith in government. In City Council, we need a new direction and a fresh start and Jannie Blackwell will provide that."

Morrow said that Knox spoke in Blackwell's favor at the ward meeting without a specific political quid pro quo in mind.

"We have no idea whether she will support us. We don't care because it's time for a change," he said.

Michael Youngblood, a former Blackwell aide who is now a volunteer for the Knox campaign, said the Blackwell-Knox link was enhanced by the fact that each grew up in public housing.

"They share that background and it's a strong link," Youngblood said. "People who grew up in public housing will understand that."

Blackwell said if she does endorse Knox, she wants to run as a team.

"What I'm looking for is a partnership," she said. "I've been here long enough to have an opinion on what is needed. I'm interested in someone with forward-thinking ideas and an openness and willingness to form a partnership to deal with the problems."

When there is no partnership, Blackwell has imposed a heavy cost. Ask Mayor Street. Blackwell has stalled key initiatives like moving the Youth Study Center and privatizing the Water Department's biosolids operation.

Blackwell said Street's biggest failing was his inability to communicate and cooperate with the Council he once led.

"I think it's important for the next mayor to understand that you have to have communication with Council. We can't spend the money but we sure doggone pass the bills," she said.

Chris Mottola, a Republican political consultant, said that a Blackwell endorsement would help Knox at the ballot box, but perhaps not in an obvious way.

While it might mean a marginal increase in Knox's vote among black voters in West Philadelphia, Mottola thinks it might do Knox more good among the white liberals and reformers by showing Knox is not just a rich guy running for office.

"It would give him some depth and breadth. It would make him real," he said. "Symbolically, it's a big thing because he now has people with real track records coming out for him."

Thad Mathis, Temple professor of social administration, said the alliance would be a "win-win. Tom Knox can't lose. He gains some street machinery in West Philadelphia."

For Blackwell, he said, it's a no-brainer. If almost any other candidate wins the Democratic nomination, her chances at the presidency are diminished.

"It's a marriage of convenience for them," Mathis said.

But mayors wade into Council presidency fights at their own peril. To start, they have no vote on the matter. The president is selected by the membership. And that's where the calculations become byzantine and murky.

A Daily News analysis of the Council races and either current or past support for Verna and Blackwell suggests that both start out with five incumbents who are likely to win on May 15.

Verna can count on support from James Kenney, Frank DiCicco, Joan Krajewski, Marian Tasco and her own vote. Blackwell would have Darrell Clarke, Wilson Goode Jr., Blondell Reynolds Brown, Donna Miller and her own vote.

In a more tenuous electoral position are Juan Ramos, who would be for Blackwell, and recently elected Council members Bill Greenlee, Daniel Savage and Carol Ann Campbell, who are all for Verna.

Verna and Blackwell will have to negotiate for support of the three Republicans, Brian O'Neill, Jack Kelly and Frank Rizzo. Rizzo says he favors Verna and, barring a major political shift, thinks his colleagues will stay in her column.

The question is whether Greenlee and Ramos are defeated and by whom. At-large challenger Marc Stier says he'll support Verna, while Sharif Street would be for Blackwell.

Another potential at-large winner, Bill Green, has waffled, refusing to take a public position. But last week the Verna side had him with Blackwell.

As Kenney noted, "If you can't answer the question directly, then you are for Blackwell because there's no reason to remove a sitting president who is doing a good job."

Curtis Jones Jr., who is one of two challengers to Campbell, is supporting Blackwell for president, while Matt McClure is a question mark.

Maria Quinones Sanchez, who is one of two challengers to Savage, has a close personal relationship with Blackwell, though she said she is undecided.

Marnie Aument-Loughrey is undecided, saying she wants to wait to see if the current structure of the presidency, which requires support from the majority leader and the Republican leader for major decisions, is changed. *