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

Hanna backed down. A press conference was held within the hour. The Dad Vail was back before it ever really left. And in retrospect, both Nutter and Brady told a story here — about themselves and this city. Nutter’s story was that Philadelphia, population 1.5 million or so, was going to take a yearlong backseat to a town of 7,000. Brady’s story was, No fucking way.

The two men have been telling a similar story in numerous other, symbolic ways. “The Mayor’s Office can be a little penny-wise and dollar-foolish at times,” says City Council member Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. “Some of the conversations I’m having with them, over such small amounts of money … I can’t even believe it.”

Quiñones-Sánchez says she met earlier this year with Nutter officials about six ethnic parades, which cost the city about $100,000 in total. “They are meeting with people who are volunteering all their time to do something for the community,” says Quiñones-Sánchez, “and nickel-and–diming them to death.”

Brady, by comparison, seems hell-bent on maintaining every last Philadelphia tradition. “I think one of Brady’s strengths is that he sees the value in community events that may appear small,” says Quiñones–Sánchez, “but are actually very important to the fabric of the city, and very important to specific groups and neighborhoods.”

Brady also bridged a funding gap for the Manayunk bike race, but the Mummers are perhaps the best case in point. “The city said they wanted to charge us for incremental costs,” says attorney George Badey, chairman of Save the Mummers. “So if the parade requires extra police shifts, we pay for that. But last year, they were including the cost of police and dispatch personnel who would have been working with or without a New Year’s Day parade.”

And it was Brady who played savior — raising money and schooling Nutter. “Brady told me he explained to the Mayor that he should be making sure this parade happens,” recalls Badey, “so that the Mayor can march at the head of it. He told the Mayor it would be good for his reelection.”

You think?

Understanding the importance of events like parades fits the Brady bio. He is, after all, an Overbrook native who joined the carpenters union, won a Congressional seat … and stayed in Overbrook and the carpenters union. He is a traditionalist. He doesn’t make fun of the Mummers for dressing like drag queens. He loves the Mummers, because they’re our drag queens. But the Philadelphia Traditions Fund — a Brady initiative of state- and corporate-donated money designed to prop up the parades and races he’s been busy saving — may be far less important for what it achieves than for the image it reinforces: We can keep Philadelphia running as it always has, even in this time of economic crisis. The message may not even have the virtue of being entirely true. At last count, the Traditions Fund contained just $200,000. But in terms of setting a positive vision for the city, 200-large beats nothing all to hell.