Businesses Say Mayor Nutter Is Ignoring Their Papal Visit Pleas

The asterisk? The survey was done by headline-hunting Alan Butkovitz, one of Nutter's biggest critics.


Philadelphia businesses think Mayor Michael Nutter is doing a terrible job at communicating critical details about the upcoming papal visit, according to a survey of 68 hotels, restaurants and retailers by City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

Here are the report’s key findings:

  • Eighty-six percent of companies said the Nutter administration has not provided enough information about preparations for Pope Francis’ trip.
  • Most businesses, however, said they’re A-OK with that. Forty-eight percent said they “were provided little or no information, but felt they were still able to plan,” while an additional 14 percent said they “were provided enough information to allow their businesses to properly plan,” according to Butkovitz’s survey. Thirty-eight percent said, conversely, they “received insufficient information and are not able to plan.”
  • The top three concerns of businesses are “getting employees to work, getting supplies and deliveries, and the removal of trash.” At a press conference Wednesday, Butkovitz called on Nutter to provide more information ASAP about commercial trash pickup and delivery logistics. The administration promises to do that next week.
  • Ninety-one percent of companies said the “traffic box” — an area located from Girard Avenue to South Street and from the Delaware River to 38th Street, where personal vehicles will not be allowed to enter during the papal visit – is posing challenges.
  • Only 10 percent of businesses said they were planning to close when asked the question, “What changes, if any, do you plan to make to your business operations in anticipation of the Pope’s visit?”

Overall, this is a pretty mixed bag. Businesses think the Nutter administration is lousy at communicating, but that’s not scaring the vast majority of them away.

But how seriously should we take this survey? It was delivered to 250 hotels, restaurants and retailers within the traffic box, which are the businesses that would likely face the biggest difficulties regardless of how well Nutter communicated. And only 68 of them responded. According to city officials, 12,000 establishments are located in the traffic box.

Jeff Hornstein, the City Controller’s director of financial and policy analysis, said it is a “better-than-statistically-significant” survey of businesses in the hospitality industry.

And as for why it wasn’t more inclusive of other industries, Butkovitz said, “It’s not like a presidential poll. It was designed to meet the need of giving a voice to various kinds of businesses. We’ve been reading a lot of anecdotes in the news media in the last few weeks and I think a lot of that has actually been productive, for example, in changing the amount of territory that employees have to walk to work. So we thought something that was a larger scale that gave voice to the three major businesses sectors would be important.”

Another thing worth considering is the fact that the survey was conducted from August 18th to August 28th, which is when the Nutter administration was just getting many of its business outreach efforts off the ground. Butkovitz said his office conducted a follow-up survey of companies Tuesday to ask if their opinions had changed since they were first questioned, and all of them said no.

The Nutter administration, for its part, defended its communication efforts, saying it has been in close contact with almost 300 companies, as well as the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“It’s a bit like a political candidate’s push poll,” said mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald of Butkovitz’s survey. “He makes several inflammatory or mistaken statements and then asks for comment from the business. So, for example, he asserts that we’ve lacked transparency. He talks about the ‘Mayor’s designated security perimeter.’ As you know, the security perimeter’s were established by the U.S. Secret Service.”

That’s a fair point. But the thing is, Nutter isn’t great at communicating. It’s perhaps his biggest flaw. And for a long time, official information about the papal visit was hard to come by, forcing people to rely on leaked reports from secondhand sources. The city and the World Meeting of Families have upped their game in the last couple weeks by launching the business resource center and releasing the “Papal playbook,” but things still aren’t perfect. It’ll be interesting to see how much they improve in the 24 days between now and the Pope Apocalypse.

Alan Butkovitz’s Pope Report