Politics: Honey, I Shrunk the Mayor

What do the Mummers Parade, the SEPTA negotiations, the Dad Vail Regatta and the Manayunk bike race have in common? All required Congressman Bob Brady to swoop in and bail out Mayor Michael Nutter

The dynamic established over the past year seems unlikely to change. And the recent kerfuffle over bringing the next Democratic National Convention to Philadelphia will likely only exacerbate the situation. In this latest go-round between Expansionist Bob and Reductionist Mike, the Congressman is pushing, enthusiastically, for Philadelphia to host the next gathering of drunken Democratic conventioneers. The Mayor? Not so much.

“We’ll take a look at the materials from the DNC,” Nutter told the Daily News. “Obviously it would be a lot easier if the DNC would guarantee that it would not cost the city a dime. We still have a city to run.”

This kind of talk inspires precisely the wrong sorts of slogans:

Philadelphia: We’ve Got a City to Run!

Or:

Philadelphia: Can We Bum a Quarter?

And of course, when the optics are this wrong for Nutter and this right for Brady, this many times, it’s only fitting to wonder if the Congressman is up to something. For what it’s worth, numerous sources said that after finishing third in the race for mayor, Brady realized he needed to make some changes. “I would say that Ken Smukler, his political consultant, has played a big role in all this,” says Nutter ally Neil Oxman. “And that’s not a bad thing. He’s leaning more on Ken, and Ken understands modern politics and marketing. And so I think when Bob gets involved in something, you’re more likely to hear about it now.”

During my interview with Oxman, the longtime political adman committed an intriguing faux pas that speaks to just how distracting the Brady Problem has become: “I’ve heard from the Mayor,” he said, “about this idea that Brady’s stealing the spotlight. But that’s ridiculous.”

He corrected himself a minute later, saying, “The Mayor’s people have contended that Brady is stealing the spotlight, and the Mayor thinks that’s ridiculous.”

That may have been a simple slip of the tongue. But according to electricians union boss John Dougherty, Nutter spoke directly to Brady about all the press he’s been getting: “What I heard is that the Mayor said to him, ‘You keep doing this to me.’”

The two supposedly ended that conversation amicably, with Nutter assured by Brady that he’s simply around to help. And the truth is, there is no Brady vs. Nutter II in our political forecast. Big Bob isn’t planning to run for mayor ever again. And he told me he’ll push in 2011 to help Nutter get reelected. Nutter’s problem, then, isn’t about beating Brady at the polls. It’s about telling a better story than the Congressman from Overbrook. And right now, Nutter is struggling to pen any meaningful narrative about his administration or the city at all.

This tale, then, is an old one — about he who wins losing, and he who lost yet won. Because the benefit of all this is accruing to Bob Brady, who has spun the most incredible story of all: about a man who appeared to lose power as a city cried for change, then regained momentum by helping it — mostly to stay the same.

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