Nothing like an ice storm to force a cool-down in City Hall. Or was it the hot air rising all over town?

Earlier this week, City Councilman Jim Kenney was sharpening a knife to gut campaign-finance law in the middle of the mayor's race. Now, he's sticking the carcass in the freezer until spring. [See story on B5.]

Talk about the power of friendship: Kenney, an idea-filled councilman who generally earns respect and his salary, risked his reputation on a plan that looked like a valentine for his buddy, Bob Brady.

Brady may be king of the Democrats, but with no jeweled crown to pawn for cash, he's no match for millionaire mayoral rival Tom Knox.

Knox has money, but no message, unless you count the rags-to-riches tale he's hawking endlessly on TV.

For now, they're 30-second spots. Sometime soon, they could turn into 30-minute infomercials.

That, plus Knox's TV-generated surge in the polls, gave Kenney one of his famous red-faced freak-outs. He rushed to the computer to rewrite the law and restore order to the universe.

Politics is full of fast ones - remember when New Jersey Democrats dumped damaged U.S. Sen. Bob Torricelli for Frank Lautenberg a month before election day in 2002? - but changing the rules after the game has started is a new low.

Anger, anger everywhere

Kenney wasn't trying to bring back the scourge of pay-to-play entirely. He just wanted to give lugs like Brady a fair shot against rich guys looking to buy the keys to 215 City Hall.

Brady and the other candidates want to buy the office, too.

But, like Vince Fumo, they'd prefer to spend Other People's Money. With Knox in the race, Kenney thinks they need more of it.

Campaign-finance reform, Kenney told me, simply sounded better in 2005, before Knox started writing himself checks.

Back then, it made sense to limit mayoral candidates to $5,000 in contributions from individuals and $20,000 from political committees.

Now, the limits feel like "handcuffs." Next thing we know, Knox will be hurling hundreds in the air to adoring fans on the Market-Frankford El.

After being booed on his first suggestion to scrap the caps entirely, Kenney reformed his anti-reform.

Plan B would let pols of more modest means double their contributions with each $2 million that a wealthy candidate gives him- or herself.

"Maybe the first brush at this, taking all the limits off, was too stark," he told me.

But when his reformed anti-reform continued to draw fire and ire, Kenney hit pause.

"I don't think the environment is conducive to a clearheaded conversation about it," he said.

He still has "serious concerns" about Knox vowing to spend whatever it takes, and not just for Brady's sake.

"No one can keep pace with him," Kenney alleges. "He's got the bug, he's been bitten."

But to avoid being more of a "distraction" in a race with plenty of pressing issues, Kenney will table the proposal until after the primary.

"I'm going to hold my breath and hope for the best."

Dialing for dollars

For all the grief he's gotten, Kenney reminds me he "intentionally" did not include City Council candidates in either of his proposals. He knew that would make it look even worse, even if success means he fails.

Now, the guy who supported cleaning up politics only to wind up dirtying it again is feeling the fallout.

"Guess what? I'm having a terrible time raising money," Kenney confided.

He needed $400,000 to fend off a challenger in his last primary, and doubts he can come anywhere close to that this time around.

Potential donors who do work with the city tell him they're worried about breaking the rules, so they may wait until the last minute to give - if they give at all.

"I'm going around hat-in-hand, begging," Kenney lamented.

In the interest of fairness, maybe Tom Knox has a little extra he can spare.

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 856-779-3914 or Read her recent work at