Pastor Kevin Johnson of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, to Run for Mayor in 2015

Rev Kevin Johnson is the pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church at N. 12th and Cecil B. Moore. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Rev Kevin Johnson is the pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church at N. 12th and Cecil B. Moore. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

BRIGHT HOPE BAPTIST Pastor Kevin Johnson on Sunday related to his congregation the story of Caleb, who urged Moses to lead the Israelites into Canaan – a land of powerful enemies that few believed could be conquered.

Perhaps it is with this story in mind that Johnson, 39, is exploring the possibility of running for mayor in 2015.

Like Canaan, Philadelphia’s political arena is filled with mighty tribes and entrenched power – a land, you could say, that “devours those living in it.”

And like the Israelites, Johnson is essentially an outsider. He has never run for elected office, and he moved to Philadelphia to join Bright Hope in 2006.

“The city needs leadership and when I look at the results that we have been getting from the traditional persons who have run, I think that it’s now time for us to think outside the box,” said Johnson, who told the Daily News he is forming an exploratory committee.

It’s too soon to tell whether Johnson could successfully cast himself as a political outsider, but there’s little doubt that the void for such a candidate exists. Many are complaining that the expected field of mayoral contenders – a state senator, the city controller, several Council members and others – is too heavy on traditional or party “machine” candidates.

A Johnson candidacy would undoubtedly shake things up.

“Right now, the mayor’s race is wide open,” political consultant Larry Ceisler said. “He comes from a very prestigious church that has launched many political careers. Why not, really?”

Although Johnson, who lives in Overbrook Farms, may be relatively new to Philly politics, Bright Hope is not. Former U.S. Rep. Bill Gray III and his father were pastors at the church, at Cecil B. Moore Avenue and 12th Street.

Gray, who became the highest-ranking black congressman ever and helped launch the careers of countless Philadelphia politicians, died last year, and Johnson gave his eulogy.

“He was a great man and achieved a lot for the city,” Johnson said. “His spirit is on me, and I know that and I’m really just trying to stay in that Bright Hope tradition . . . of community activism but also economic development.”

Last week, Johnson asked the church’s board of trustees for their support if he runs.

“I wanted them to be informed first what’s on my heart, what I feel I’m being called to do,” he said. “Also I realize that whenever this decision is made, that I need Bright Hope. Bright Hope was there for Rev. Gray, and if we move in this direction, I pray that Bright Hope will be there for me.”

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Source: Philadelphia Daily News | SEAN COLLINS WALSH,  [email protected], 215-854-4172