Since the announcement that City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake would become mayor after Sheila Dixon's resignation, a majority of council members have declared their support for a colleague, veteran Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, to fill the president's office.
But behind the scenes, developers, business leaders and political leaders - including Rawlings-Blake herself - have launched a broad effort to persuade council members to back Councilman William H. Cole IV instead, council members say.
"There's a political machine out there that's supporting Bill Cole," said Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, one of several council members who said they were approached on Cole's behalf. "They won't identify themselves, but they're out there trying to get votes for Cole."
Rawlings-Blake says she has not endorsed either candidate and denies knowledge of an effort to rally votes for Cole, a freshman council member.
Young has a reputation for outspokenness, and some city officials say privately that there would be less tension between the council and the mayor's office if Cole were president. Cole and Rawlings-Blake enjoy a good working relationship. Less conflict and criticism of the incoming mayor, some say, could boost her chances of winning at the polls in 2011.
But Rawlings-Blake's spokesman Ryan O'Doherty denied that she would prefer to work with Cole and noted that she "worked very closely" with both candidates.
Cole says he is not aware of any "concerted effort" from the Rawlings-Blake team on his behalf. "I haven't sat in any meeting with her when she lobbied my colleagues," he said.
If business leaders are contacting council members, it is out of a personal affinity, and not prompted by machine politics, Cole said, noting that he represents the downtown area that is home to many businesses.
But council members say that they have been approached by numerous business leaders who indicate they have been asked to lobby on Cole's behalf. The 14 members of the council are slated to vote on Rawlings-Blake's successor after she becomes mayor on Feb. 4; at least nine of the council members have pledged support to Young.
Councilman James B. Kraft said that he has been contacted by several developers and city lobbyists who said they had been asked to persuade him to change his mind, in one case saying the request came from influential Democrats.
Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said that soon after the transition was announced, she asked Rawlings-Blake what she could do to help, and the council president asked her to support Cole.
Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said Rawlings-Blake called her last week about another issue, but brought up the council president's race.
Without mentioning names, "she said she was looking for someone she could work with on a consistent basis," said Middleton, adding it was clear whom Rawlings-Blake favored. "She kept emphasizing the word 'consistent.'... And that she is looking ... toward the 2011 election."
"I said, 'Stephanie, I support you now and I will support you as mayor, but I also support Councilman Young,' " Middleton said.
Reisinger said he was told last week by a top Rawlings-Blake aide that Cole would be "less confrontational" as president.
At least five business leaders have approached him about supporting Cole, Reisinger said. At the conclusion of one conversation, a business leader said, " 'Well, I've done my part,' " Reisinger said.
The majority of council members said that they had not been personally approached by anyone seeking their support on Cole's behalf. But many said that they were well aware of attempts to sway their colleagues' allegiance.
Cole scoffed at the notion of a political machine rallying votes for him. Many business and religious leaders have asked him to step out of the race, he said.
Young said that he was "shocked" by reports of a campaign to change his colleagues' positions.