With feisty promises of better schools and safer streets, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) launched his Philadelphia mayoral campaign last night before a boisterous crowd of union members, elected officials, and loyalists from the city Democratic organization that the congressman has commanded since 1986.

"Don't lose hope - help is on the way!" Brady shouted in a speech interrupted several times as an overflow audience in an upstairs room at the Convention Center chanted his name.

Brady vowed to put 1,000 new police officers on the streets, institute a "SchoolStat" system to monitor schools' performance, and eliminate the city's much-maligned business privilege tax.

He eschewed "25-point plans" and repeatedly vowed to tackle problems with "one good idea and the strength and experience to make it happen" - while also promising to fix up the waterfront, restore the buildings of Fairmount Park, and even to save the elephants at the Philadelphia Zoo.

But at the core of his address was Brady's own story: The blue-collar father who turned himself into the ultimate fence-mender in Philadelphia politics. He began by evoking his days as a young carpenter wondering where his next paycheck would come from, and quickly moved to reminding the audience how he stepped in to mediate such thorny local standoffs as a SEPTA strike and a teachers' strike.

"It is now time for the citizens of Philadelphia to make this call - to choose who among us who has the strength and experience to meet some of the toughest problems our city has ever faced," Brady said.

The mayoral campaign may turn out to be as big a challenge as any of those tasks. Brady faces a field that includes three savvy legislators - U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, State Rep. Dwight Evans, and former City Councilman Michael Nutter - as well as a self-financed multimillionaire candidate, businessman Tom Knox.

A loss could imperil his status atop the Democratic machine as well as the congressional seat he has held since 1998.

But the Brady campaign's strengths were also on display at last night's event. The crowd of roughly 400 - largely white and about 80 percent male - was dominated by men in union regalia, a sign of the former carpenter's support among organized labor.

The room was also full of the Democratic ward leaders and political insiders most candidates must beg to help them round up votes.

State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop gave the invocation, and the audience included City Controller Alan Butkovitz, City Councilmen Jim Kenney, Frank DiCicco and Daniel Savage, State Rep. Frank Oliver and judges including Seamus McCaffery, the administrative judge of Municipal Court. Brady singled out Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll from the lectern.

Brady was introduced by former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, his longtime friend. Saidel himself was in the race for mayor - but he abruptly dropped out under pressure to make way for Brady. The pair has quickly buried the hatchet, though: Last night, Saidel gave Brady a shouting, fist-pumping introduction, and Brady, in turn, said Saidel would chair his campaign and serve as his point person on tax cuts.

A large number of political contenders dropped by, too, including mayoral son and City Council candidate Sharif Street, Council candidates Andy Toy and Marc Stier, and judicial candidates Ellen Green-Ceisler and Dan Anders. As chairman of the city Democratic Party, Brady's endorsement can make all the difference in a close election.

The large crowd and testosterone-drenched rhetoric served to set Brady's event apart from those thrown by many of his mayoral rivals. A more striking difference was his dismissive tone toward the detailed policy proposals that Evans, Fattah and Nutter have rolled out.

Brady said his rivals' anticrime plans would result in "tying up the next police commissioner with 25 campaign promises." That also provided Brady with a way to sidestep what critics say could be his Achilles' heel in running against a field full of policy wonks: Command of the intricate details of governance.

Eventually, though, Brady will be pushed to talk about one thing that got short shrift at yesterday's announcement: how he will pay for the new investments while also cutting taxes. In his speech, Brady said improving accountability in schools would help free up state and federal money to pay for changes.

Rather than dwell on budgets, Brady - reading from a TelePrompter - stuck to the pugilistic language that brought his crowd to a frenzy, repeatedly vowing to "fight" for the city.

Campaign aides said Brady spent considerable time this week preparing for the speech, rehearsing it in the car as he traveled back and forth to his congressional duties in Washington.

"I think it's great," said Jim McCusker, 59, a longshoreman from Port Richmond who was in the audience. "We need a change; it's beautiful. He's a very experienced politician. Plus he's one of us, a regular guy."

Robert A. Brady

Age: 61.

Residence: Overbrook Farms.

Political party: Democrat.

Education: Graduated from Saint Thomas Moore High School.

Experience: U.S. House of Representatives, 1998-present; chairman, Democratic City Committee, 1986-present; 34th ward leader, 1982-present; Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission member, 1991-1998; Philadelphia deputy mayor for labor, 1984-1987; sergeant-at-arms, Philadelphia City Council, 1975-1983.

Family: Married to Debra Brady; adult children Bobby and Kimberly; four grandchildren.

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Contact staff writer Michael Currie Schaffer at 215-854-4565 or mcschaffer@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Marcia Gelbart and Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this article.