The Power Fifty 2009

What This List Is: Our ranking of the most influential Philadelphians. What This List Isn’t: A rehash of the usual suspects

46. Rina Cutler, willpower
Deputy Mayor, Transportation and Utilities
New to list

There’s a reason why Cutler, 56, is the only Nutter-ite to make our list. In an administration in which all roads lead through Michael Nutter’s head, the deputy mayor for transportation is the only one who seems to have found the thruway. Insiders say Cutler has the necessary degree of confidence and political savvy to make sure her department’s initiatives don’t languish on the Mayor’s desk. Her achievements thus far: a cell phone lot at the airport, and initiatives to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. Now we’re hoping for that trolley system down to the waterfront.

47. Arlene Ackerman, institutional
CEO, School District of Philadelphia
New to list

The job — overseeing the education of more than 160,000 of Philadelphia’s children — is so important to our city that whoever has it has to be on our power list. But rarely has a new public-schools chief given off signs of being a short-termer so early in. Ackerman, 62, did release a five-year-plan, Imagine 2014, which pushes — among other things — to close schools that are underperforming and open new charters in their place, to assign the best teachers to the city’s hardest-to-staff schools, and to offer teachers pay incentives for results. But she’s apparently got a habit of alienating teachers and, well, a lot of other people, too. School reform commissioner Heidi Ramírez asked too many questions for Ackerman’s taste, which eventually led to Ramírez’s resignation. Though Dwight Evans seems to be a fan, we hear supporters may be defecting.

48. John Dougherty, influencer
Business Manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98
2005: 13 :: 2000: 67

Dougherty, 49, is a onetime totemic figure in Philly politics whose power is slipping. He tried to be a kingmaker, backing Tom Knox for mayor and Dan McCaffery for D.A., but both lost. He even ran -himself — for longtime enemy Vince Fumo’s State Senate seat — and lost to a political neophyte. But Dougherty’s electricians union still retains some influence on Election Day — 500 rank-and- file members with campaign signs are hard to ignore. And as one admirer puts it, “He still gets calls from people who want to run for office, because they want his support.” No wonder: Dougherty’s union gave more than $6 million to campaigns during the 2007-’08 election cycle.

49. Ahmeenah Young, institutional
CEO, Pennsylvania Convention Center
New to list

The city placed a huge bet on tourism and hospitality in the mid-’90s, and we’ve essentially doubled down with the expansion of the Convention Center that will bring it up to nearly a million square feet. Young’s experience in tourism and hospitality makes her a good fit for this assignment, but her connections to Dwight Evans and Carl Singley surely didn’t hurt. That Evans link should only help more as Young navigates the politics of running the place, negotiating labor agreements and maintaining relationships with the hospitality industry with an eye toward delivering a great experience for conventioneers, event planners and major trade organizations. Though the recession has whacked travel budgets, and the likes of Chicago and Vegas mount major competition, many think she’s up to her task.

50. Freshman Three, influencers
Philadelphia City Council Members
All new to list

As political bodies go, our City Council is something less than esteemed. Members recently roused themselves from slumber only long enough to protest the Mayor’s suggestion that they give up their city cars. Worse, when it came time to do something smart — like pass a ban on plastic bags — they failed. If there’s any reason for optimism, it’s that the so-called Freshman Three seem to be making slow, steady progress. Bill Green (top), Curtis Jones and Maria Quiñones–Sánchez all arrived together, and while they haven’t coalesced into a clear voting bloc, that seems to be part of their power. Who would have thought that on a Council once dominated by Fumocrats, three members would be charting a new course in which everybody talks to everybody, and their votes (at least) are truly independent? Green (who’s emerging as a ringleader) may alienate his colleagues from time to time, but his expertise on budget issues is clear. Quiñones-Sánchez retains the gravitas of a community organizer (take that, Sarah Palin!), and Jones is perhaps the most circumspect, a pol who picks his battles wisely.