Power: An Open Letter to Mayor Nutter

You ran as a reformer, promising to clean up the city’s old-school politics. Six months into “New Day, New Way,” we’re wondering: When are you going to start?

Then there’s the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, through which elected officials are eligible to “retire” for a day and claim a windfall pension payout. DROP was enacted to retain experienced employees — particularly police and firefighters — by giving them an incentive to stay in their jobs for four years after they might otherwise have retired. It never was intended to apply to elected officials. But of course, you know this. In fact, when Councilman Green proposed legislation that would close this loophole for elected officials (this being Philly, his legislation grandfathered in all those currently in the program on Council), it rang a bell — because it was virtually identical to the bill you proposed in 2004. But that didn’t stop you from withholding your support of it, saying, “When I start talking about the DROP program, I’d like to be able to do it in a much broader context.” C’mon, dude. There’s nothing “New Day, New Way” about those kinds of political games.

During the most recent election, you pulled out all the stops for Hillary Clinton, as was your right. And you rightly endorsed Tony Payton in the State House, an able young reformer. Yet you were strangely silent when it looked like John Dougherty was going to become a state senator. How was it that Dougherty was able to get the support of the city’s ward leaders? A mayor elected to clean up a corrupt government should have realized the backwards signal involved in sending someone to the State Senate who is under federal investigation and whose union has multiple National Labor Relations Board findings of misconduct against it. A strong reform mayor would have acted, would have spent some of his (considerable) political capital. And had you acted, it turns out, that would also have been smart politics: Larry Farnese’s upset win would have been seen as a Nutter victory, instead of Vince Fumo’s last laugh in his ongoing war with Dougherty.

That was followed by your borrowing a play from the game plan of your predecessor and nemesis. Much to your dismay, Mayor Street used to routinely violate the spirit of the Sunshine Act by conducting city business in private with small groups of Council members, thereby avoiding meeting with a quorum of members, which, by law, would have to be done publicly. But you did precisely the same thing when revising the city’s budget. You went so far as to issue a Clintonian rationalization — that informational briefings were permitted in private. Again, let’s keep it real. You’re either for transparency in government, as you’ve often said you are, or you believe that the people’s business is best conducted in secret — when secrecy happens to be convenient for you. Which is it?

This may seem like a harsh assessment of the first six months of your administration; if so, it may be because an acquiescent local media has been swept up in a honeymoon phase that, in the end, serves no one. We believe in the historic possibilities of your mayoralty, and we believe that we do you no favor by keeping our concerns to ourselves. You inspired us to believe that to transform Philadelphia, we need to change the way politics is practiced here. You ran for office as an agent of change. Given the issues we’ve raised above, when you held a $1 million fund-raiser at the Franklin Institute last month, we started wondering: Just how much of a change agent is Michael Nutter? There’s nothing illegal about holding a fund-raiser. It’s just unseemly to use the power of your new office to build a campaign war chest for a reelection race that’s three and a half years away, and it’s doubly unseemly if, when asked about it, you shrug it off by saying, “I’m a political person.”