If Anthony Hardy Williams loses the Philadelphia mayor's race, he shouldn't blame it on negative advertising or being outspent. He should blame it on having a rudderless campaign that never distinguished itself on any issue. Williams was the only candidate who came into the Democratic primary with high expectations of articulately expressing a specific point of view on a particular issue – charter schools – and he instead avoided the subject, unless someone else brought it up.
Beyond having the backing of these heavyweight school-choice advocates, Williams is the founder of the Hardy Williams Charter School in West Philadelphia, founded in 1999 and named for his father. He is a former board member of the World Communications Charter School in Center City. And as a state senator, he has been a staunch advocate for publicly paid vouchers to be used for private education. His record is well known, so why even attempt to act as if it doesn't exist?
In fact, considering the seemingly perpetual demise of Philadelphia's traditional public schools, and the fact that many parents whose children aren't already in charters want them to be, Williams could have run a strong campaign on that issue. Of course, he would have needed to present the topic in the right way; promising to both invest more in the traditional schools and create more opportunities for children to escape failing schools now. But Williams instead acted like he was afraid of the subject. He came across as a stealth candidate, someone not being forthright about his true intentions.
If Williams' reluctance to run on school choice had more to do with a mayor's limited ability to control Philadelphia School District policy, he should have said that. With only two of five appointments to the School Reform Commission, a mayor is not in charge of that state-controlled agency. But instead of pointing that out, and perhaps running hard on the need for local control of Philadelphia schools, Williams turned to other subjects -- such as saying he would fire one of the best police commissioners this city has had in years. Williams' shot at Charles Ramsey seemed like an act of desperation to counter apparent frontrunner Jim Kenney's campaign pledge to end the police stop-and-frisk program.
Williams may yet win the election. As always, the results will depend on which candidate does the best job of getting his or her supporters to the polls. None of the candidates has energized the electorate. But Williams had a chance to do that. He could have said people want to criticize me because I dare to offer an alternative to bad schools for Philadelphia's children. He could have pointed to his legislative record on school choice to argue that his mission is to give more children a chance to succeed. He might not have been able to withstand counter arguments that he wants to abandon the children stuck in traditional public schools. But his unwillingness to even try isn't a quality I would want in my mayor.