Supporters of City of Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Labor Rich Lazer launched an exploratory committee ahead of a possible run for a congressional seat that will soon be vacated by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady. 

Brady, who announced his retirement earlier this week, has indicated that he will back Lazer’s candidacy.

Lazer, a close confidant of Mayor Jim Kenney with ties to powerful local labor unions, who has been rumored for weeks to have interest in running, said he formed a committee early Thursday to “test the waters” ahead of a possible run.

“We filed an exploratory committee so we can take that next step. With the Congressman moving on, that opens up an opportunity for me,” Lazer said.

An exploratory committee is a step short of launching a full campaign and, crucially, allows Lazer to avoid Philadelphia’s “resign to run” rule in the city’s Home Rule Charter.

“The moment Rich Lazer decides he wants to be a candidate for Congress, he must resign from the Mayor’s Office,” said Charles Gibbs, a campaign lawyer who was not involved with the committee. “But the mere formation of an exploratory committee by other people is not enough to invoke ‘resign to run.’”

Such committees are typically formed by a group of supporters and are allowed to fundraise, as long as the candidate in question – Lazer, in this case – is not directly involved with solicitation.

Among the group of “friends and supporters” at the core of Lazer’s exploratory committee is Tom Mahler, the CEO of a startup pharmaceutical software company whose wife, Debbie, is the deputy mayor of intergovernmental affairs for the City of Philadelphia.

Sources also said that forming a committee would make it easier for candidates to bail out if, say, the First District were to be radically altered as the result of a court-ordered redraw of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts.

“Everything is up in the air with that,” Lazer said of redistricting. “Who knows if the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved in that?”