Is he too much of a reformer to be mayor? Or so hungry to be mayor that he can't be a real reformer?
Michael Nutter stands on a street corner in North Philly next to a SEPTA stop, and pops the trunk of his black Acura. Inside are four bags full of Nutter Butter peanut butter cookies and two straw baskets that say “America.” It's raining. It's cold. It's 7:09 in the morning. His blue baseball cap reads “Life is Good.”
Nutter rides the escalator down into the SEPTA concourse along with six of his staffers and volunteers, and me. He passes two Jehovah's Witnesses — “They've taken the prime spot,” laments a Nutter aide — and anchors himself in the stream of morning commuters. His people fan out, carrying cookies and literature. Today is November 8th. The midterm elections were last night. Nutter starts to pitch himself as the next mayor of Philadelphia:
“I know it's cold, but I'm here and it's a great day! Enjoy the Nutter Butter peanut butter cookie sandwich today! Mayor's race began at 8:01 last NIGHT! … Good mornin' at the Olney station! Welcome to the mayor's race! … Just! A little! WET out here! Get one of the Nutter Butters over there! Good for ya first thing in the morning! … It's a new day and it's time for a change!”
After a few minutes of this, a SEPTA employee walks over to check Nutter out. The SEPTA guy says, “What are you?” Not who, but what. He's not familiar with Nutter. This is understandable. Nutter was a City Councilman for 15 years until he quit last summer to run for mayor. For those 15 years, he represented a 10th of the city. Some large-ish chunk of the other 90 percent doesn't know him yet. So Nutter smiles at the SEPTA guy. He clasps the guy's hand and says, “I'm Mike Nutter. I'm running for mayor.” The SEPTA guy's mouth opens slightly. Nutter's smile takes on a new ironic quality. “Mike Nutter,” he repeats, “running for mayor.” The SEPTA guy nods and says, “Aw, okay, okay. You should be fine here.”
And he is fine. More than fine. The transit-stop meet-and-greet is a campaign standby, and Nutter is pretty good at it. I'm surprised to see that he's good at it. From reading the papers, I expected Nutter to be a cold and nerdy dude. He's our local good-government warrior. He's the guy, after all, who fought John Street and his own Council-mates to pass ethics reform, wage-tax cuts, same-sex partner benefits and the smoking ban, and he did all of this in a proudly un-Street style: Where Street is a pedantic preacher, Nutter is precise, thoughtful. He cants his torso forward slightly, the pose of a good listener. He steeples and unsteeples his fingers. He speaks in a wan, nasal voice that was once described by the Daily News as being like Kermit the Frog's but which is really more like Steve Urkel's if Urkel had chilled out and gone to the Wharton School. And all of these perceptions are kind of hard to reconcile with seeing Nutter here on the campaign trail, running on less than four hours' sleep, teasing students on their way to school at nearby Girls' High (“When I was a kid in West Philly, the Girls' High girls wouldn't talk to me — maybe it was just me”), clapping his hands every few seconds to project energy and vigor and bigness (he's five-10) and especially hope. Also, he's got these weird cookies. They only make sense as a dig at Street, who's a famous fitness nut. …
“He might find that he likes it,” Nutter says. “Great taste, less filling.” He pauses. “No, that's a different product.” Nutter spots a new stream of commuters, claps and turns:
“You're goin' to work early? I'm goin' to work early! We're not messin' around. You didn't think I could shake two hands at once, did you? I am GOOD at this! And you haven't even seen my patented spin move!”
The Nutter Butters dwindle as the candidate soul-shakes with some commuters, has his picture taken with others, and fields mild praise (“He's been good for the neighborhood”; “I just voted yesterday! You're next, huh? All right. We like you”) as well as at least one compliment on the smoking ban. His fiercest supporter is a white woman, short, 50ish, in a gray coat. As she approaches Nutter, she assumes the pose of a supplicant, hands together, looking up at him beatifically: “You are our only hope! God bless you! God bless you!”
This woman rushes through the turnstiles before I can get her name. But I've talked to others like her. She's hardly alone in her belief that Mike Nutter — a guy with a record as a good, smart, non-hackish, ambitious public servant who has some courageous qualities but who also uses skill and power to get what he wants and who plays the political game when he has to (which means, in Philadelphia, doing favors for powerful friends) — is really something bigger and purer than all that. And also that he's the only one around here who's so pure. The fact that Nutter, a guy who's been in politics for 23 years, knows how to work a transit stop isn't surprising. But this line of thinking is.
You are our only hope.
Nutter is a perfectly good in-the-fray legislator who's being sold as a uniquely outside-the-fray leader. The disconnect speaks both to our need and to Nutter's skill: to our need for a full-throated reformer, and to Nutter's skill at helping us believe he's it.
ACCORDING TO EARLY POLLS, Nutter is an underdog. U.S. Congressmen Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady (also the local Democratic Party chairman) are the 800-pound gorillas; in early December, Brady forced out Jonathan Saidel, the former city controller. If the field holds, we'll probably see a five-way primary in May between Dwight Evans (state rep), Tom Knox (insurance CEO and ex-Rendell aide), Brady, Fattah and Nutter. The last five-way race was in 1999. John Street won, with 35 percent of the vote.
Nutter, who is 49, has never run for citywide office before, but he pitches this apparent weakness as a tactical strength. “No one knows what it's like to be in a race with me,” he says, which is true. Nutter has a close-to-the-vest quality, sustained by a set of wry facial expressions and an outward placidity that cracks and bleeds when it needs to let the nastier stuff through. No one who's seen him demolish a witness at Council, gutting testimony like a fish, would think Nutter a gentle soul. Last November he was already talking about how Fattah was going to have to “come down here with the mortals” and “talk about potholes.” What about Saidel, an oversight bulldog? Was Nutter worried that Saidel was talking up his own reform credentials? (He hadn't dropped out yet.) “Okay,” Nutter said, his voice growing quieter, turning to ice. “What was he doing when Ron White was looting the public treasury? What was he doing?”
Nutter's mysteriousness extends to his personal life. He talks some about his 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, a student at Masterman, but not much about his wife, Lisa, an expert in job-training programs for schoolkids, and even less about his parents. Nutter's mother worked for Bell Telephone and raised him in a two-story rowhome on Larchwood Avenue in West Philly. She and his father, Basil, are divorced. Nutter says he admired both of them. He also says his father, who is today sober, had a drinking problem: “Alcohol was not his friend.”
Nutter went to St. Joe's Prep on a partial financial-need scholarship. Today the Prep is six percent black, but then it was more like 15 percent black; Nutter joined the Black Culture Club and discussed Malcolm X with his history professor, Jerry Taylor. “He had a great sense of the need for social justice,” says Taylor. “You don't usually find that. You find do-gooders. They do all this and they do all that, [but] they don't really see the big picture. Michael not only saw the big picture, but how each piece fit in.”
Nutter didn't start to see where he fit into that picture until he graduated from the Prep and started working at the old Impulse Disco on Broad. Nutter cleaned toilets and spun records (“Mixmaster Mike,” he grins, “layin' the labels on the tables”) with his best friend from the Prep, Zanzibar Blue's Bobby Bynum. It was the '70s, and that meant more than just huge Afros, Nutter's Afro among them — it also meant the rise of a new political movement, the Reverend Bill Gray's Northwest Alliance. Gray was a U.S. Congressman who raised money nationally and funneled it back to local races with the intent of smashing the white Democratic party elites — guys like Buddy Cianfrani and Jimmy Tayoun, who sat in a smoky room and picked which hacks would represent black wards. “We said, hey, political office is not a reward for party loyalty,” says Gray. “You gotta be talented.” Gray recruited educated, middle-class pols — names like Evans, Fattah, now-Councilwoman Marian Tasco — and raised cash for them at the Impulse, where a 19-year-old kid like Nutter could take it all in.
Nutter stayed fascinated with the Alliance pols as he graduated from Penn's Wharton School, then worked for Xerox, then for an investment banking firm. By this time he was a worker bee on the Alliance's campaigns, especially the 1983 Council campaign of the dapper John Anderson, a liberal warrior and closeted gay man whom Nutter drove for 20 hours a day in a crappy Toyota. When Anderson died mid-campaign, Nutter was devastated. Anderson was “Michael's rabbi or Michael's saint,” says Jerry Taylor. “In a sense, it was like a surrogate father had died.”
After Anderson's death, Nutter's story starts to read like the bio of a young, hungry guy on the make. He went to work for an Anderson ally, Angel Ortiz, then ran for Council in 1987 with Bill Gray's backing. Nutter's opponent was an incumbent party loyalist and mother of four named Ann Land: an old white lady in a steadily blackening district. Nutter “courted the media as much as the ward leaders,” according to one 1987 newspaper clip. Nutter lost by just 1,882 votes, but the next time around, having snared a ward-leader post in the interim, Nutter sent Land into political retirement in 1991.
Nutter would never again face a strong primary challenge, thanks to his creativity and tenacity as a legislator and his early cultivation of political support, especially the support of a woman named Carol Ann Campbell. Campbell, a large, volatile woman who used to play classical piano and rides in a motorized wheelchair, is the head of the black ward leaders. Her political style owes more to Jabba the Hutt than to Bill Gray; even within a corrupt system, Campbell is a corrupt actor, having been indicted and sentenced to probation in 2001 for ducking campaign-finance laws. Still, it's standard operating procedure for Councilfolk to keep their ward leaders happy. On Nutter's first big-ticket bill in Council, creating a Police Advisory Commission, the board selection committee, which he chaired, suggested Campbell as a member. In return, Campbell helped to fend off challengers for his Council seat and freed him to tackle issues beyond his own district.
Nutter cultivated John Street, too. “They had a whole Batman-and-Robin thing going,” says Councilman Frank DiCicco. Nutter would later recall, to a Daily News reporter, that he used to attack D.A. Lynne Abraham — “I started fights with her, dirtied her up a little bit” — just to make Street look good. Says Sharif Street, the Mayor's son, “My father and Michael have more in common than either would like to admit.” People called Nutter a Street lapdog, which didn't sit well. Nutter would go to the Prep and sit in Jerry Taylor's office, a converted supply closet with a beach scene painting on the wall, and vent. “I think Michael then began to distance himself [from Street] very, very quickly,” says Taylor. “Because obviously [John] Anderson wouldn't be seen as a lapdog.”
Nutter had also been carrying a second chip of Andersonian guilt — one he'd earned in 1993, and one that, to hear Nutter tell it, contained the kernel of the guy he's become. In 1993, Jim Kenney and Angel Ortiz tried to pass a bill providing same-sex benefits for city workers. Nutter had told the gay community he'd support it. Having worked for Anderson, he could do no less. But at the same time, Nutter was trying to pass his police-advisory bill. Street supported the police bill but not the same-sex bill; Nutter worried that if he threw in with the wrong people, Street would crater his police bill. Nutter decided to be “quietly not supportive” of the same-sex bill (“He was trying to leverage it,” says Kenney), and the bill died. Nutter says, “That feeling of not having done the right thing never went away” — and Nutter knew the gay activists wouldn't go away, either. So in 1997 and 1998, over the “furious” objections of Street, Nutter wrote a new set of same-sex bills and helped push them through a process so contentious that at one point, the bills' allies sent an enfeebled Thacher Longstreth to the Spectrum for the entire day just to keep him away from Street. (Longstreth sat in the cheap seats, watching the Ringling Bros. circus.) The bills eventually passed after a marathon Council session that Nutter calls “one of the biggest public showdowns in recent history.”
Interestingly, whatever happened in 1993 doesn't make Nutter look as bad as he says it does. Here's a less melodramatic take: Nutter flip-flops on one bill in order to pass another bill he believes is more important, sticks his finger in the political wind, concludes he'd better pass the first bill anyway, and finds a clever way to get it done. This is a story about everyday legislative horse-trading framed as Mister Nutter Goes to Council. “A friend keeps advising me that I should start using the word 'moxie,'” says Nutter. “The moxie to stand up and say or do the right thing whenever it needs to be said or done.” More and more, Nutter's wonky exterior was masking a fierce moralist within.
Nutter began to introduce the bills he's best known for: sensible, well-crafted policies that changed the City Charter to create an ethics board, brought sunshine to no-bid contracting, and turned Philly smoke-free. These bills were not easy to pass. Nutter had to overcome institutional inertia and opposition. He lost battles before he won votes. Ethics reform took a solid year. The smoking ban took six years. It's true, of course, that along the way he pulled a few favors for Campbell. He pressured the sheriff's office in 2003 to help her get paid on a no-bid contract, the Daily News reported (Campbell never got paid, and Nutter says, “There was never a contract, never a payment. I simply made a call of inquiry”), and he also came to Campbell's defense over a SEPTA trolley in her neighborhood that she didn't want built. Still, says the Committee of Seventy's Zack Stalberg, Nutter was ahead of the curve. “In the Philadelphia political culture,” says Stalberg, “he's pretty darn clean.”
With Nutter stepping into his new role as a full-blooded Street foil, marching down Broad Street in 2002 to demand wage tax cuts, later hopping onto Judge Seamus McCaffrey's motorcycle for a photo op, the tone of his media coverage became downright reverent. “His down-to-earth openness makes him vulnerable, accessible, real,” reads a DN story from 2002. “His independence from political camps — he's neither a Street guy nor a Vince Fumo guy — makes him impossible to pigeonhole.” The day after the 2003 election, Nutter was a two-to-one shot in the Daily News to be the next mayor.
A BANQUET ROOM. ROUND tables, sucky light. Glass chandeliers knock around like wind chimes. Nutter sits on a dais at the room's front, alongside the other hopefuls — Knox, Saidel, Evans, Fattah — and tells the African-American Chamber that if he were mayor, he'd “end the culture of pay-to-play” and fight crime by creating jobs. Nutter's one applause line comes when he says that people with criminal records shouldn't be locked out of the job market. (To Nutter's great credit, he also talks about this idea in front of white, pro-business crowds, where reaction to it is frostier.) One in four city residents lives in poverty, he says. “There are almost two Philadelphias.”
Nutter can be inspiring. A few hours after the Chamber event, he gave me a little chill when I heard him tell a group of cardiologists munching on crabcake hors d'oeuvres at Brasserie Perrier, “There are countries that have created their constitutions based on what happened right here in this city. We have a real downtown. We have a Real City. This is not a manufactured place. This is an old, stable place where people have come for years and years.” But a lot of those doctors live in the suburbs, and I'm a white guy who lives in East Falls. The big-picture talk that makes white suburban businessmen woozy and wobble-kneed — “The CEOs I've put him in front of love the guy,” says Rob Powelson, president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry — could represent Nutter's biggest obstacle to election: his lack of kitchen-table issues for wooing black people in the neighborhoods that gave John Street his two terms. “Michael Nutter?” says Mary Mason, the black talk-radio host. “He's nobody, because he crossed the party.” Mason asks me why I'm not writing about Fattah, then guesses: “Michael Nutter has got some little rich white guy sponsoring him, so he calls all his friends and gets his stories.” Can Nutter connect with black voters where they live? People's concerns can be very small and low to the ground, yet even when Nutter talks about tiny problems, he imagines big, technical fixes. For example: Nutter, walking in the rain, jumps a puddle at the base of a curb. “You know,” he says, “there's gotta be something to be done about that. Yeah. Little leak holes or something. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it's so unimportant. But on days like this … ”
On days like this, do black people dodging Tec-9s in Kensington care much about the Convention Center, which Nutter chairs? Do black people in Point Breeze get very excited about the $1 billion in tax cuts over the past 10 years that Nutter helped divert from being invested in neighborhoods like theirs?
Ultimately, though, the dichotomy that tells us the most about Nutter isn't black-vs.-white. It's old-vs.-new. The new Nutter, the one who's not just a good guy in the legislative foxhole but who floats above the battlefield with the wisdom that detachment provides, is convinced “there are more of Us — normal, regular people who just want the place to run right — than there are of Them,” which means, he says, that “it doesn't matter what the machine does” or “what the papers say” — as if the papers think him a hack instead of a hero and the machine wants him ground into dirt. Nutter talks like this partly because it's what he knows — in 1987, Nutter was saying, “My candidacy represents the future of the district; Ann Land's represents the past” — and also because he can be swaggeringly prideful about what he sees as his own independence, a legacy of the Bill Gray door-kickers. One evening, he told me he had watched Terminator 2 the night before. Will the Machines Grind Us Up and all that. He raised his arms: “I've been around for 15 years and I still haven't been ground up.”
Of course, Nutter has been a ward leader for years. Part of the machine. Successful Dems in Philadelphia don't run as anti-_machine outsiders, which is why, most of the time, Nutter tries to split the difference, showing us what an insider's outsiderish campaign might look like. Says David Crawford, a close adviser to Nutter and president of Econsult Corp., a West Philly firm whose economists crunch policy for city entities, among others, “His first question is always, What's the right way to do this? How do other people do this? How do other cities do this? What evidence do we have that something will work?”
This is a strikingly obvious set of questions, and the fact that Nutter can campaign on them says more about our expectations of government — and the deficiencies of the other candidates — than about Nutter's potential to be a good mayor. We're used to such a low standard that anyone who articulates a reasonable one is an instant hero. Nutter is like a concert pianist who plays “Chopsticks” and gets a standing O — and when you ask recital-goers how come they're cheering so loud, they can't say exactly why. Tom Nason, for instance. Nason is CEO of a 90-person construction company with offices in Delaware, Maryland and Philly. He heard Nutter speak last year at the Chesco Chamber. “It just comes screaming to me that this is a guy who's different,” says Nason, a two-time Dubya voter. “I don't know if it was anything he said. It was the way he said it. It wasn't about politics. It was about doing the right thing to make things right.” Then there's Hannah Miller, a blogger at YoungPhillyPolitics.com and vice chair of Philly for Change, a Reform Democrat group. Miller — 30 years old, manic, a fresh face in local politics — met Nutter in 2005, and says, “He was able to give me and transfer to me a sense of hope about the city that I see so rarely. … He's one of the people who kind of took me under their wing. 'All right. You don't know anything. … '” She adds, “Michael is the person who will choose to do the right thing, no matter what the circumstances are.”
What Nason and Miller are articulating — Nutter does the Right Thing, not the Expedient Thing — is the moral narrative of his campaign. And the moral narrative has to carry a lot of weight. Nutter has never run a business. He's a legislator, and as John Street proves, a good legislator doesn't a good mayor make. The moral narrative fills the gap in Nutter's bio by suggesting a set of character traits and instincts that would serve him well as CEO of the city. Even the way he's running his campaign — declaring his candidacy four months before his nearest competitor, thereby subjecting himself to the city's new limits on fund-raising — boosts his executive cred. “There was never any mystery or cloud,” Nutter told a group of his donors at the Ritz-Carlton, contrasting himself with Fattah, Brady, Evans and Knox, who hadn't declared yet. “Is he going to run? Is he not going to run? It's called decision-making… all of you are business people. … That's what being a chief executive is all about.”
Quitting his job to run for mayor is the ballsiest thing Nutter's done. In the aftermath of quitting, however, he did two things that were kind of unNutterish. One: He went on the payroll of Econsult Corp., which does business with the city, and didn't initially tell reporters. While there was nothing improper about that, it looked like something Councilman Nutter would have criticized a mayoral candidate for. Two: He left his Council seat in the hands of Carol Campbell, the campaign-finance crook.
The moralist in Nutter wants to speak truth to power. The cautious pragmatist wants to attain power. When these impulses collide, Nutter twists himself into pretzels. He did try to stop Campbell, but lamely. The weekend before she was to be anointed in a special ward leaders' election — a consummate backroom affair — Nutter asked party officials to postpone the vote. By then, Campbell was a done deal. Campbell herself told the Inky, “He is the epitome of ingratitude. … Michael has benefited from the system, and now he has turned his back on it.” She didn't comment for this story.
Nutter says now that he was only trying to give his constituents a shot at influencing the closed-door process, and he frames it in moral terms: “If I was just a practical politician, I would never have done what I did. When the issue is what's right or wrong, I try to do the right thing.” But by waiting so long to jump in, he pissed off everyone and satisfied practically no one. Says Frank DiCicco, “Stay the hell out of it. You got bigger fish to fry. You're running for mayor. … She [Campbell] has a lot of influence up there. No question about it.”
During the day I spent with Nutter, as he drove around the city in his Acura, the ghost of Carol Campbell kept following him. Just after 9 a.m., he turned his radio to Mary Mason's show and there was Campbell, promising to work on housing issues and crack down on pranksters at St. Joe's University. I told Nutter that maybe he should incorporate an anti-St. Joe's plank into his mayoral platform. He bowed his head, smiled into his neck, and said, “You know, I'm not going to respond to that. I hear what you're saying.” After breakfast at Little Pete's — where a booth of white women told Nutter, “Now we just have to get rid of Carol … ” — Nutter walked to his campaign office. He sat in a cubbyhole and made fund-raising calls. One potential donor seemed to be asking about Campbell. Nutter was saying:
“She wasn't particularly pleased with my opinion on whether there should be a special [election] at this point. … I think it all shakes out in the primary next year. … Can you write a check for $500? Can you make a $500 contribution? Can you hear me now? Can you make a $500 contribution? I understand. … Everybody gives at a variety of different levels. … Thank you. … Thank you. … I'm going to keep it up.”
AT THE END OF MY DAY WITH Nutter, he went to see a movie. He'd seen it a couple times before: Tigre Hill's The Shame of a City, a nonfiction account of the 2003 mayor's race. Back then, Street and others argued that the FBI corruption probe of the current administration was just a dirty trick perpetrated by a racist GOP. Hill's movie demolishes this spin. It's angry, muckrakey. It makes a lot of local Democrats — but not Nutter — look more than scummy. “The things that were said weren't true,” says Nutter. “I knew that at the time.” One of the movie's final images shows a quote from this magazine in which Bob Brady admits that he never believed the party line about the FBI investigation being a GOP plot: “Nah, I was just spinning the shit. And it worked.”
Nutter stood at the back of the theater, laughing at all the right parts. He laughed when Sam Katz adviser Carl Singley says of a Street flack, “Get this asshole out of my face” (Nutter: “That's the best line”), and when Street gets booed at a Phillies game (“Oh, this is great”). After the movie, Nutter headed to a nearby bar with some other moviegoers. He ordered popcorn shrimp and ate it standing up. He was juiced, revved up. A mental wall had crumbled, unleashing Mixmaster Mike: loose, funny, profane, un-P.C., righteously indignant. Someone asked him if the party had leaned on him back in 2003 to spin the shit. Nutter said, “No one tried to lean on me because no one thought I would say something That. Fucking. Stupid. Remember, I'm the guy they had to drag to the 1999 endorsement of John Street after a 45-minute meeting with chairman Brady in which he offered to hold my hand.” (I swear he said “in which.”) He added, “No one tells me what to do. I'm my own man.” And walked away.
It's nice that Mike Nutter saw through those lies. But these statements are three years too late. If he felt so strongly, Nutter could have stood up in 2003 and tried to influence the future of the city — either by calling bullshit on Brady et al., or by endorsing Sam Katz instead of Street. Indeed, Katz had real hopes that Nutter might “find a way” to support him, especially since Katz had used his bully pulpit and his GOP connections earlier that year to vault Nutter into the chairman's seat at the Convention Center. (Katz says he helped Nutter “with no strings attached, with every expectation that he would see the partnership I was proposing.”) Robin Schatz was Katz's point person on Democratic outreach. She spoke to Nutter about an endorsement and got the feeling that Nutter said no because he was “looking ahead to running for mayor.” (Schatz makes it clear that, one, she likes Nutter, and two, she's not endorsing any current candidate.) She adds, “I think in his heart of hearts he probably thought Sam would be a better mayor, but … I think Michael's a very cautious person. I think Michael did what Michael needed to do.”
Two weeks after the showing of Hill's documentary, I asked Nutter why he hadn't stood up and challenged the Democratic spin in 2003. We were at his campaign office, where a digital countdown clock ticked off the days, minutes, hours and seconds until the mayoral election. I pretended I didn't know the answer, and Nutter pretended he didn't know I knew the answer. It couldn't have been a more artificial interaction. During the interview, he'd been absently wiping his fingers across the lacquered surface of a conference-room table, as if polishing it, or cleaning a dirty spot. Now he took off his glasses, squinted, stared intently at the lenses, and said, “Well, I mean, just because I thought it, doesn't mean that it is absolutely 100 percent the case. And I mean, I guess, that's a thought that developed over time as it kind of played out.”
Just one point about this — because while the temptation to take special delight in Nutter's inevitable moments of politics-as-usual is quite strong, it's often unfair to Nutter, who tries harder than most to be open and aboveboard and has written laws to force other pols to do the same. But to judge Nutter by his own high standard is fair, even though it means judging him more harshly, than, say, Bob Brady. Compare Nutter's approach to the 2003 election with Brady's. Mr. Ethics vs. Mr. Spinning the Shit. You've got two very different pols trapped in the same awkward situation — the standard-bearer of their party is under FBI investigation — and not only do they act differently at the time, they explain their acts differently after the fact. On the face of it, Brady comes off far worse. Brady's “spinning the shit” is a sin of commission; Nutter's silence is a sin of omission. But Brady's justification for his behavior is more honest than Nutter's justification. In fact, Sam Katz, looking back at the election, actually singles Brady out for his honesty. “At least the guy came out and said, Okay, you know, I did what I had to do, but it was garbage,” says Katz. “I wish he had said it sooner. But he's the chairman of the party.” Brady never claimed to have any motivation other than helping his friends. In other words, you might worry about Brady, but you don't wonder about him.
In early December, one of Nutter's committeemen in the 52nd Ward engineered a coup supplanting Nutter as ward leader. Payback for mucking with Campbell's election? Nutter insisted that his rival had broken the law, and that he, Nutter, was still the ward leader. “It's just, ah, you know,” he said, and sighed deeply. “It's the games that people play. But no. Nothing has changed.”
As of press time, Nutter was challenging the actions, but if he can't manage to keep his seat, he'll finally be meaningfully estranged from the party. His chances of being mayor will go down, but only in the world where Nutter really lives, not in the world of our most caffeinated hopes — as evoked by someone like Hannah Miller, who on a recent Saturday morning was drinking a latte at a new French café that just opened near her apartment in the Italian Market. “Michael Nutter is full of joy,” she said. “Smart. Good. Fearless. And he doesn't give a shit anymore. And he's just going to run. That's what he's going to do. And that is how people win. He's just going to run, and win, and that's it.” Miller took a sip of her latte. “And it's beautiful.” She took another sip. “It's just so fucking beautiful.”