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?

DEAR MR. MAYOR,

[sidebar]This is why we’re happy you’re our mayor: On May 12th, the Inquirer ran a story about two 20-something sisters, Kristen and Courtney Kammerer, who had opened Remedy Tea Bar two and a half years ago on Sansom Street. It detailed the many frustrations the sisters were having in dealing with the city; the zoning board, for example, ruled that they had to remove their store’s security grate, which resulted in repeated break-ins. It was a story about two young, idealistic entrepreneurs who spoke of their resentment of a bureaucracy that seems designed to create problems for them.

The same day the article appeared, you walked into their store. You not only bought some hot chocolate; you gave them information on security-related grants they’re eligible for. Most important, as the human face of the faceless government that had so frustrated them, your mere presence told them that someone was on their side.

There have been many such moments in the first six months of the Nutter administration: when you personally confronted the scumbag who took Officer Stephen Liczbinski’s life; when you forcefully dropped the hammer on those cops who had morphed into a marauding gang, showing the courage to take on police brutality; when you oversaw the removal of some 2.56 million pounds of trash from the city’s streets in one day; when you hired clearly competent administrators, people like police commissioner Charles Ramsey and commerce director Andrew Altman, from outside the city instead of giving the nod to whatever apparatchik happened to be next in line; when you spoke to the Chester County Chamber of Commerce and declared that the fates of the suburbs and the city are intimately intertwined, that we really are all in this together. In all these cases, your eloquent example has spoken volumes. “I’m on your side,” you’ve said, in effect, to all of us. That is the mark of a leader whose heart is in the right place.

We’re writing to you today because these examples still give us hope that you can become a transformative mayor — a modern-day Richardson Dilworth, if you will. That you really are someone who, as we wrote upon endorsing you over a year ago, is willing to “take on the entrenched interests and do the people’s business.” Frankly, though, there are reasons to be concerned.

Six months into your term, we’re still looking for an overriding, signature issue. (At a comparable point in his mayoralty, John Street had towed 40,000 abandoned cars and laid the groundwork for his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.) While we applaud your one-day cleanup, we sense that so far, you’ve avoided the real cleanup the city is in dire need of. We are Nutter supporters because, as we wrote a year ago, “reform” isn’t one of many issues, it’s the issue. Our most pressing problems are either caused or exacerbated by our go-along-to-get-along culture, which you promised to change. Six months into your term, we’re reminded of the old Who song: We’ve met the new boss, and he seems a lot like the old boss. Six months into your term, we’re wondering: Where’s the reformer?

LOOK, WE’RE PRACTICAL people. We understood the need to kick off your administration with an op-ed singing the praises of longtime Democratic Party boss Bob Brady. We like Brady — he’s a skilled mediator — and you need him by your side to deal with the city’s unions. With Philadelphia facing potentially crippling pension-fund and health-care costs, we understood that you’d have to confront the city’s municipal workers; we figured it would be Rendell Redux, circa 1991, when, facing bankruptcy, he eliminated one out of every 14 city jobs, started contracting out many city services, froze city worker pay for three years, and cut the number of paid holidays. Clearly, you’d need Brady to get our fiscal house in order now.

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