Politics: Honey, I Shrunk the Mayor

What do the Mummers Parade, the SEPTA negotiations, the Dad Vail Regatta and the Manayunk bike race have in common? All required Congressman Bob Brady to swoop in and bail out Mayor Michael Nutter

In Brady’s relatively new role as chair of the House Administration Committee, Congressional members parade before him, hats in hand, seeking everything from parking spaces to paper clips. Brady’s new job bears the promise, for Philadelphia, of more federal funding. And Brady won’t shy away from a pork buffet: “Let me ask you,” he says, “Do you think anyone is going to refuse any of my requests?”

He’s come into his own back home, too. Vince Fumo’s prison sentence has left room at every podium for someone else to talk, so for the first time in his political career, Brady is standing up front and speaking into the mike, rather than looming in the back, silently cracking his knuckles. Brady not only doesn’t need Nutter to save him — he’s actually appearing, Zelig-like, with a smile and a hand up whenever the Mayor falls down. And his consistency in this new role has troubled some of Nutter’s advisers.

In fact, when I called the Mayor’s Communications Office and told one of his press aides I was working on a story about Brady, the aide went negative for a couple of minutes, tearing into a guy who has been an awfully valuable ally, before asking that the entire conversation be off the record.

Brady does retain some dazzling imperfections. He sponsors no meaningful legislation, and his Congressional district was recently named the nation’s second hungriest in a report conducted by the Food Research and Action Center, a D.C.based nonprofit. But attacking him screamed of an inexperienced administration. The smart play would be to portray Brady as a weapon you deploy. Don’t signal a rift. Even longtime Nutter devotee Terry Gillen, who currently heads up the Redevelopment Authority and knows her way around the media, told the wrong tale: “You’re writing a story about Bob Brady?” she asked. “Why? Don’t we have enough Bob Brady stories?”

Some of the more philosophical types around Nutter did offer savvier sound bites — Bob’s being helpful, Bob’s not upstaging the Mayor. But when I asked Brady why he had to step into so many situations — why, in effect, Nutter couldn’t handle something as basic as not pissing off the Mummers by himself — his response was both cryptic and telling: “I will not be quoted saying anything bad about the Mayor.”

Nutter and Brady are engaged in an uneasy détente, it seems — a professional relationship based on practical political considerations. The problem for them both, from a public relations perspective, is that the Bob Brady highlight reel includes so many of Michael Nutter’s bloopers.

THE REAL DIFFERENCE between Nutter and Brady might be the classic opposition of pessimist and optimist, Philly-style: Is that cheesesteak half-eaten? Or is that a whole half of a freaking cheesesteak, just sitting there on the table? “In every situation, Brady walks in, puts his hands on the back of each side’s neck, and says, ‘We’re gonna get this done,’” says longtime supporter Greg Montanaro. “Then he makes them say it, too.”