Philadelphia, Bob Brady feels your pain.

The congressman and Democratic Party chairman - who today announces he is running for mayor - says he understands the struggles of ordinary citizens.

"Every night some father will go to bed trying to feed his family, not able to afford a can of soup," Brady said. "Thirty-five years ago, I was that father."

Here's what Brady wants you to know: Back in the mid-1970s, before he began his political climb, he was an out-of-work carpenter with two little kids, begging the gas man not to turn off the heat.

"That's what drove me into politics," Brady said. "[We all] have the same dream."

This afternoon Brady, 61, embraces his dream of running for mayor of Philadelphia, becoming the fifth candidate in the crowded Democratic primary field.

The image of Brady as a struggling dad may be new to many Democrats, but it's part of his story that could be emphasized as his campaign message evolves.

To win, Brady will need more than a compelling story. He'll have to prove he's qualified for the city's most demanding job.

And while viewed as a master at managing the party and helping constituents - he still has a listed phone number - Brady is widely perceived as thin on issues and policy.

So this race will likely test Brady in ways he has never been tested. He will have to develop policy positions, become conversant on numerous city issues and battle his wonkish competitors in debates.

Is he ready?

"I am what I am," Brady said in a recent interview. "I have a record. I have experience."

Since 1986, Brady - a powerfully built man with graying hair and a twinkle in his eye - has presided over the colorful crew of ward leaders, union bosses and smooth politicians that make up the city's Democratic Party.

With his personal charm and the occasional sharp elbow, he has brokered peace deals, helped resolve labor disputes and consistently delivered big wins for Democratic candidates.

"The majority he produced for [2004 presidential candidate John] Kerry, the majority he produced for [2000 presidential candidate, former Vice President Al] Gore?" said 63rd Ward Leader Chris Drumm. "There's not a reason the city should produce those numbers other than him. He's a force."

Councilman Jim Kenney said Brady's peacemaking skills are quite simple.

"He gets you and he talks to you," Kenney said. "He's got a personal touch that's endearing."

Brady explained. "You have to be fair with people," he said. "If you lie to them, they're not coming back."

Brady recently got Kenney to end a longtime feud with Mayor Street - a standoff Kenney swore would never end.

"In the end Bob said to me, 'What do you want? The man's not going anywhere. Sit down, go to lunch,' " Kenney said.

And Brady showed he could reach out to his own critics when he went to breakfast with a group of progressive activists who had complained that the party was closed off and resistant to reform.

"He was certainly friendly," activist Anne Dicker said. "On the other hand, he didn't say, 'I'm going to do any of these things.' The party is still clandestine."

Brady says his experience working deals has prepared him for the mayor's office.

"You have to be able to get things done," he said. "When there was a SEPTA strike, who did they call? When there was a teachers' strike, who did they call? You get that by having a reputation as an honest broker who can get things done."

Asked what issues he has to address, he said: "Ain't crime the biggest issue? Don't we have to fix that?"

Brady will provide more details on his crime plans today. He also said he has been working on position papers on key issues.

Still, several insiders noted that policy could be Brady's Achilles' heel.

"If he's asked a series of questions early on about what he wants to do and it's all murky, he's in real trouble," said one political insider not affiliated with any other candidate.

In the halls of Congress, Brady stands out because of his second job as a big-city party leader. His ability to deliver big Democratic vote margins out of Philadelphia has garnered him attention from national candidates.

But while he has a good attendance record, he is not known for passing meaningful legislation.

Brady said he didn't want to focus on legislation in a Republican-controlled Congress.

"What, am I going to put bills through that don't pass?" he asked. "That's just a waste of effort. I'm not a showboater."

"There are different kinds of legislators," said the Committee of Seventy's chief executive, Zack Stalberg. "He's certainly focused on bringing dollars to Philadelphia and providing constituent services."

And providing services to people is what drew Brady to politics in the first place.

He grew up in a rowhouse in Overbrook Park, with a tough, Irish, Delaware River Port Authority cop as a dad and a sweet Italian homemaker for a mom.

The story of Brady's baptism in politics is near folklore at this point - the streetlight outside his mother's house was broken, so Brady talked with his committeeman.

When the guy wouldn't help him out, Brady ran for committeeman himself. The leader of the 34th Ward, then-City Council President George Schwartz, became his mentor.

In 1982, when Schwartz stepped down after being convicted in the Abscam scandal for taking a bribe, he handed the ward over to Brady.

Soon after, Brady ran for City Council on a slate put together by Frank Rizzo, battling a slate topped by W. Wilson Goode in the Democratic primary.

Brady and Rizzo lost. But in typical Brady fashion, he made peace with Goode, helping him shore up labor support to win the mayor's office in November. And Goode returned the favor, making Brady his liaison to labor.

Two years later, Goode supported Brady for party chairman against a black opponent. It wasn't a popular move with many African-American ward leaders, but Brady got the job.

When Goode - weakened by the MOVE bombing and facing another strong challenge from Rizzo, this time running as a Republican - ran for re-election in 1987, Brady evoked party loyalty and asked South Philly ward leaders to get Goode as many votes as possible.

"I would say that without him it would have been more difficult." said Goode.

When Brady decided to run for Congress in 1998, his policy chops were questioned. But he easily won the seat and hasn't faced a serious challenge since.

Now Brady says he can serve Philadelphia better as a mayor than as a congressman.

He seems eager to dispel notions that he's a reluctant candidate. And he has convinced Jonathan Saidel - who dropped out of the mayor's race late last year amid rumors that Brady supporters had encouraged his exit - to introduce him today.

Brady said he's getting in because he's the best man for the job. Fundraisers are scheduled and he said he already has nearly a million dollars socked away. He expects wide support from ward leaders and unions around the city.

And if it doesn't work out? He'll do what Bob Brady does best. He'll invite all the other candidates out to lunch and they'll make amends.

"A primary is a family squabble," Brady said. "I try to put the pieces back together." *