"The only thing I'm considering at this moment is how we adopt [a budget] and how we make AVI implemental," Clarke said of the Actual Value Initiative. "It is the farthest thing from my mind."
Tom Knox, who finished second in the 2007 Democratic primary for mayor and entered the 2015 race last week, said a good friend called him recently to say Clarke had approached her to gauge her support if he ran. Knox said he hopes Clarke enters the race.
He has good reason. Clarke, who is black, could help split the field among voters likely to support state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who also is black and is expected to run.
"I think he'd be a much more formidable candidate than Tony Williams," Knox said of Clarke.
Williams did not return requests for comment. Others rumored to be eyeing a mayoral run, including City Controller Alan Butkovitz and Councilmen Jim Kenney and Bill Green, who are all white, said Clarke would be a terrific candidate. Butkovitz said during a controller debate taped yesterday that he would support Clarke if he ran.
Kenney said: "He's knowledgeable. He's an authentic Philadelphian."
Insiders say several factors have prompted Clarke to be thrust into the mix, including his relationships with various factions such as developers and unions, his experience, a weak mayoral field and a strained relationship between Mayor Nutter and City Council.
Clarke also struck a mayoral manner in March when he vowed to get involved in labor negotiations after angry municipal-union members, who have been without a contract since 2009, prevented Nutter from delivering his budget speech to Council.
"When you compare the slate, he's just as talented and experienced as anyone else," said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez. "The city needs to have a common vision and sense we're all working together."
Whoever becomes the next mayor, many say that candidate should have a plan to develop neighborhoods beyond Center City. And Clarke, whose 5th District includes parts of Center City and North Philly, has managed to spearhead considerable development in his district.
"People think Clarke can take the city to the next level," said an elected official who asked to remain unnamed.
Others can't imagine Clarke - an extremely private person who finds comfort in working behind-the-scenes - dropping the second most politically powerful job.
"To give up that perch he just got for the uncertainty of the 2015 mayor's race, where he'd have to resign . . . I'd be surprised," said Ellen Kaplan, policy director for government-watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
Last year Clarke raised $160,975. That was more than double his biggest fundraising effort in the last five years. Clarke has $146,000 on hand, more than what those rumored to be running for mayor have in their war chest.
Elections lawyer Gregory Harvey says the bigger bank is likely due to Clarke's elevation to Council president.
Charles Gibbs, Clarke's campaign finance chair, said simply, "We're preparing for an election in 2015." When asked to specify, he added, "I will leave it at that."
Staff writer Chris Brennan
contributed to this report.
On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom