Rumors Fly in City Hall’s Interim Mayor Situation

With Darrell Clarke saying he doesn’t want the job and Bill Green avoiding the question, who’d become mayor if Michael Nutter left for D.C.?

It was another difficult spring in Philadelphia for Mayor Michael Nutter: rising homicide rates, a recalcitrant City Council, the schools in disarray.

Who'd become mayor if Michael Nutter left for D.C.?

But nationally, Nutter’s star is ascendant. As the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a leading Obama surrogate, Nutter is becoming one of urban America’s most prominent spokesmen. He was featured on no fewer than eight cable news broadcasts in May and June alone.

Naturally enough, that has fed speculation that Nutter would rather be somewhere else. Like, say, Washington, D.C., in a second Obama administration. Nutter has given no hint that he actually wants to leave, but what would happen if he did?

According to the city’s Home Rule Charter, Council President Darrell Clarke would become mayor. Clarke, though, says constantly that he doesn’t want the job. So what if he were to pass? It turns out the position would then fall to Councilman and mayoral aspirant Bill Green, who as chairman of Council’s finance committee is second in line to the mayor’s office. Indeed, a rumor has been circulating that Clarke has already agreed to step aside and let Green take over as mayor should Nutter quit before his term ends.

When asked if there is any truth to the talk, Green is silent. For 10 long seconds. “Uh. Uh. You know, uh, I would say we do not have an agreement to that effect.”

Well, how about conversations to that effect, Councilman?

He pauses again. For 15 seconds this time. And then replies, “I would say we haven’t had serious conversations about anything like that.”

Clarke declined to discuss it, but his spokeswoman, Jane Roh, says, “The idea he would make that kind of deal is totally ridiculous.”

Maybe so. Either way, though, there may not be much political advantage in replacing Nutter as interim mayor. The Charter calls for voters to pick a replacement mayor at the next regularly scheduled election, whether it’s the primary in May or the general election in November. That means the incumbent—be he Bill Green or Darrell Clarke— would have to fend off challengers within just a few months of getting the keys to the big office on the second floor.

This story originally appeared in the August issue of Philadelphia magazine.