Dear President Obama: Take our mayor—please!
It’s not that we don’t appreciate Mayor Michael Nutter’s gifts around here. We’ve elected him to the city’s top spot twice, after all—the first time in a giddy blitz of hopefulness, the second time in more of a “Meh, who else you got?” absence of real alternatives. Mayor Nutter is on top, and it takes a certain amount of chutzpah and guile to get there in this town. So there’s that.
But after the last couple of weeks, it seems like Mayor Nutter’s gifts—and attention—are more rewarded at the national level than in the town he supposedly runs. And, uh, folks around here are kind of starting to notice.
Here are the good things that have happened to the mayor lately: He ascended to the top spot at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a post that will help him make the case for America’s cities in the media and in the halls of Congress. He made a much-lauded speech decrying America’s obesity rate. What’s more, Mr. President, he’s emerged as one of your more reliable surrogates, somebody who is able to make the case for your presidency and occasionally give Mitt Romney a smackdown without going off the reservation like Cory Booker or Ed Rendell. In national politics, he’s a rising star.
And here is the one really bad thing that happened lately: He failed to get the Actual Value Initiative—a plan that taxes properties according to their (natch) actual value instead of some ancient formula buried with Frank Rizzo—passed through Council. What’s more, it’s probably a good thing he didn’t get it passed: While the AVI makes sense, the mayor was trying to get it passed in the most ham-fisted and traumatic fashion possible—before the city’s properties are re-assessed, but with the assurance that homeowners would face big tax hikes and renters stuck with higher rates for apartment living. As bad as the city’s finances might be right now, quick passage of AVI might’ve been devastating for everybody who lives here.
You notice the trends here, Mr. President?
One of the trends, of course, is that Mayor Nutter’s successes pretty much all come when he’s dealing with out-of-town issues. Home-cooking isn’t so great for him.
The second is that Mayor Nutter shines brightest when giving a speech—but isn’t so great on the action front.
You can probably sympathize with the latter observation, Mr. President, because it’s a reputation you share with our mayor. And you can probably sympathize with the mayor because he, like you, has found his time in office derailed by a cratering economy and the desperate, flailing need just to keep the ship afloat. Neither of you get the credit you probably deserve for the fact that our city and nation simply haven’t burned down in the last four years.
Still, Mr. President, you at least got a version of health care reform enacted. You ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. You ended the war in Iraq. These have been mostly good things, substantive stuff that improves lives.
Mayor Nutter’s had a harder time coming up with a signature achievement. The AVI failure is most recent, but it’s not been so long since he failed in his attempt to impose a tax on sugary drinks. Has any Philadelphia mayor so routinely failed to get City Council backing for his initiatives?
The best thing he’s done, probably, is to hire Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and that’s not quite an unqualified success. And the thing he’s most known-for, probably, is getting really mad at flash-mobs and murderers.
None of this should discourage you, Mr. President, from hiring Mayor Nutter away from Philadelphia—like, right now. You don’t need Mayor Nutter to try to pass legislation in a recalcitrant Congress. You do need somebody who is great at giving interviews, great at giving speeches, and heck, great at rapping. You need somebody who can campaign for you, and Mayor Nutter is excellent at campaigning.
So hire Mayor Nutter to come work for you and your re-election effort, Mr. President.
We’ll get along, somehow.