Searching for Richardson Dilworth
Does Michael Nutter give a fuck? Is this even a fair question? Does it take an outsized personality to achieve reform? Does it take somebody willing to clean up his own party, his own house?(16)
“No, no,” says Terry Gillen, head of the Redevelopment Authority and a key adviser to Nutter; she was there with him in the early, long-shot days of the campaign, and first got to know him back in the ’80s, when they were both active in the ADA. “I think reform can come in all sizes and shapes. … Dilworth was a guy who understood that in order to govern, you have to make compromises. And I think it’s a myth that you can just, quote, ‘Let it rip,’ and govern like that for eight years. So that’s the challenge for any reformer. But anybody who thinks you can just be angry and successful should look at John McCain. It’s really not what people want. I understand why newspapers want it, by the way. … I think people sometimes, lots of times, people, um, can be too idealistic. And can get upset anytime a leader makes any kind of a compromise. And that’s just naive.”
Gillen’s hero is Clark, not Dilworth. Not because Clark was an idealist. Because he was an organizer. Gillen, see, has this theory: “I think Philadelphia suffers from a syndrome of wanting the mayor to fix all the problems. It’s what I call the Daddy syndrome. Okay, Daddy’s home. Now none of us have to do any work, because Daddy’s going to fix all the problems. What I worry about is now people will go back to watching movies, because now Daddy’s going to fix the city.”
IF DILWORTH STILL has a constituency 30 years after his death, it’s not because anyone really believes that Michael Nutter can transform himself into a Dilworthian presence, or even that a single person can save the city from its enemies. (Dilworth himself made this mistake, as did Clark.) No. It’s because people are more fearful for the future of the city than they’ve ever been. This is a scary moment in the American experiment. The country could go either way. Philly could go either way. And the Zack Stalbergs of the world are understandably nostalgic for a time when there was a man who embodied the heroic efforts it takes to keep the American city alive, who explicitly acknowledged the terrifying fragility of the American city, who was willing to accept that for all the energy of the city, all the dynamism and creativity, all the wailing, striving, bursting, yearning drama of the city, there is nothing inevitable about it. The city is complex, the city is arbitrary, the city is a project of fallible men and women, the city is a creation of government, the city is a function of progressive policy. There is some fluttery thing at the heart of the city that needs to be nurtured, lest it be lost forever.
16. Gillen, asked if there are any ongoing efforts to reform the Democratic Party beyond just ethics reform in City Council, sighs. “Right now, there’s nothing that I know of. And all of that is a conversation that the Mayor will have to have.” In short: Are you fucking kidding?