Kenney decides to run for mayor

Councilman Jim Kenney. (Kriston J. Bethel / Staff Photographer)

City Councilman James Kenney is jumping into the Philadelphia mayor's race, likely within a week.

He just won't say that in public for now.

Sources familiar with Kenney's thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the six-term councilman has decided to run but was not prepared to formally announce his campaign.

Doing so would trigger city rules requiring Kenney to resign his Council seat immediately.

Kenney, 56, on Friday said only that he was going through an "accelerated process" to decide if he would enter the race, and that no firm decision had been made.

After vacillating about the mayor's race for months, Kenney said Thursday he would make his decision "within a week or so."

His campaign could get off to a swift start.

Former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo unexpectedly dropped out of the race Wednesday. The next day, Kenney expressed interest in bringing Trujillo's staff - which had been building a campaign for months - onto his team if he joins the race.

With a ready-made staff, Kenney would then need money and volunteers to do the legwork of a citywide campaign.

Enter Workers Stand for America, a group of local labor leaders that meets monthly to discuss the mayor's race and other political concerns.

One of those leaders, John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, head of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said Kenney is "perceived well" by the group.

And Dougherty said the group is thus far unimpressed with the declared candidates in the May 19 Democratic primary - former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson A. Diaz, and State Sen. Anthony H. Williams.

"As soon as one of the people who is acceptable to all gets in, you'll see a formidable operation put in place," Dougherty said.

The labor group had been interested in Council President Darrell L. Clarke, but he ruled out a run for mayor last week.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz announced in November that his anticipated run for mayor would not happen, mostly because he didn't know what Clarke was planning.

Butkovitz on Friday reset his timetable, saying he previously thought a campaign needed to be underway by last November and had not anticipated such a fluid field of candidates.

Butkovitz said he is concerned that the mayor's race is dominated by political maneuvering instead of critical issues such as the economy and employment.

"All the discussion about the mayor's race is who's up and who's down, who's in and who's out," he said. "Obviously the people of Philadelphia are bored with that, because it doesn't have anything to do with their problems."

Butkovitz's new timeline for the race now revolves around Feb. 2 - the day candidates must file their annual campaign finance reports for 2014.

He wants to see how much money the candidates have on hand before making a decision.

Though Kenney has not formally declared his candidacy, he already has a fight brewing with another undeclared contender - Doug Oliver, a former aide to Mayor Nutter.

Oliver's exploratory committee on Friday questioned whether Kenney's Council post "gives him the same unfair advantage that he complained about another candidate having."

Kenney had asked the city Board of Ethics last week if Oliver, who worked for the Philadelphia Gas Works, could still appear in television commercials for the publicly owned utility while preparing to run for mayor.

After that, Oliver, who plans to announce his mayoral campaign on Feb. 7, resigned from his PGW job. His committee said Kenney "should immediately resign his position" if the councilman, too, has decided to run for mayor.

The city's resign-to-run law requires officeholders to step down if they have declared candidacy or submitted nominating petitions to run for another office.

215-854-5973 @byChrisBrennan