Darrell Clarke

Darrell Clarke 101: Who says the Mayor is the most powerful person in City Hall?

Darrell Clarke spurned the mayor’s race on Monday, news that makes every other person in the race and people who were on the fence about joining the race (Alan Butkovitz and Jim Kenney) incredibly happy. This is because Clarke was the favorite — if he decided to run. Why was he the favorite, exactly? It’s a combination of experience, union love and favorability among black voters in a city with a large black voting base. Billy Penn explains everything you need to know about the guy who could probably win the mayor’s race but decided he doesn’t want to run.

Who is Darrell Clarke?

He’s the City Council President and represents the Fifth District, comprising much of North Philly and a little bit of Center City. Before first getting elected in 1999, he worked in John Street’s office. Street had been holding down the council seat in the Fifth District but quit after running for Mayor that year.

How experienced is he compared to everyone else in the race?

Clarke has a lot more city government experience than everyone else. The City Council President is the No. 2 person in City Hall, right behind the Mayor. Lynne Abraham was Philadelphia’s D.A., and Ken Trujillo was the city solicitor; otherwise none of the other candidates have Philly-centric leadership experience.

What has Clarke done as City Council prez?

Besides take the opposite stance on everything Nutter does? Clarke has done quite a bit, actually. He’s been known for introducing a bill at just about every council meeting, advocating for poorer communities in North Philadelphia and helping redevelop Philadelphia into the more youth-oriented city it is now.

The resurgence of neighborhoods like Fishtown and Northern Liberties and the redevelopment of Broad Street around Temple  have happened under Clarke’s watch. Bart Blatstein, one of the major developers in North Philly, has said, “I would not be that bullish on North Philadelphia if not for the Councilman. He has the vision thing.”

It hasn’t all been roses. Clarke has taken a lot of heat for using eminent domain in the redevelopment projects, and his decision to dismiss Nutter’s proposed sale of the PGW has brought sharp criticism.

What’s up with the union love and why would it have mattered?

Clarke has taken a lot of pro-union stances as Council President. Shutting down the sale of PGW further made friends among the union peeps (who had taken to driving around and around City Hall in a van protesting the sale week after week). It also helps that Clarke runs counter to Nutter on so many things. Nutter is not exactly beloved by the unions. After Nutter’s budget address in 2014, Clarke met with union leaders of DC 33 and Local 686 and said the budget didn’t include favorable enough packages for them.

John Dougherty, the leader of the Local 98 electricians union, gave Clarke campaign funding and his endorsement last June. Since 2000, according to the Inquirer, Local 98 has donated more than $25 million into political races. In a race for which success hinges significantly on money, Local 98s support is huge. At the fundraiser where Dougherty endorsed him, union leaders from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, gas workers, firefighters and longshoremen were also there. So Clarke would’ve likely had plenty of union support.  Given the unions’ 2014 boast that all of them would endorse one candidate, all of that support might have been enough to tip the election in his favor.

Why wouldn’t he run, if he’s the favorite?

Clarke arguably has more power as Council President than he would as mayor. This fall, he illustrated the extent of that power by convincing everyone on Council to ditch Nutter’s proposed sale of PGW without even holding a public hearing. Since taking over as Council President in 2012, he’s been able to exert more influence than Nutter over a Council that featured six new members. And with none of the mayoral candidates having Council experience, Clarke will likely be able to wield this same power

Clarke is also no spring chicken at 62. If he serves two terms as mayor, there wouldn’t be too many political options presented for him afterwards. He wouldn’t be taking this step for another, better step, so if mayor isn’t his grand goal there’s little point in running.

What’s going to happen now that he’s not running?

City controller Alan Butkovitz might rejoin the race. He said he wouldn’t run in November because he feared Clarke. Butkovitz is a favorite of the unions, so he might reconsider now. Pa. Sen. Tony Williams is now the lone black candidate in the race, likely giving him the edge to pull voters from Philadelphia’s 44 percent black population. And according to Lynne Abraham’s own polling, she’s actually the favorite. So there’s that.  

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