Will Bill Green Be Our Next Mayor?

He insists he's not running...yet.

He tells me, absolutely, he wants to be mayor. He also says no, he’s not running next year, he’s not taking on Michael Nutter as Nutter seeks a second term. But why piss around? Bill Green does not piss around.

I’m sitting with the Councilman early last Friday evening in the rotunda of Nineteen, the restaurant high up in the Bellevue. Bill Green doesn’t mind telling me when he decided to start saying exactly what he thinks of Michael Nutter. It was May 2008. Green had been a Councilman for four months. [SIGNUP]

He had just asked the mayor for something, one small thing in Green’s on-going goal of making city government paperless, or at least less wasteful: That every city printer be set up to print on both sides of a piece of paper.

Our mayor told him: “We don’t know which printers are capable of printing on both sides.”

To Green, this sort of missed the point: “So print on both sides with the ones capable of doing it.”

Nutter: “We’re doing an investigation.”

That day, Bill Green went back to his staff and said, in essence, Screw it. Nutter couldn’t even send out a simple directive to save paper. So Green and his staff would do what they wanted, what they believed, the mayor be damned.

It’s not as if Bill Green wouldn’t go down that road anyway.

As Committee of Seventy’s Zack Stalberg told the Inquirer: “I’ve never seen a rookie Council member establish a reputation this quickly and be so universally seen as an eventual contender for mayor. I haven’t even seen anybody come close.”

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that another Bill Green—his father—was already mayor, back in the early ’80s.

But this Bill Green, Bill the IV, is getting things done: Late last year he introduced bills to overhaul dumpster regulations and to abolish the abysmal Board of Revision of Taxes. He’s also prone to wrapping his hands around large stuff, like that paperless agenda (which he claims could save the city $200 million a year), or his summer project: considering how the city might better leverage valuable assets like municipal buildings, parking lots, and park land.

But really, Bill Green’s quick rise comes mostly from what he’s willing to say, and he can get rolling in a hurry on Michael Nutter:

“He panders to popular issues. He took on tax reform when it was popular, ethics when it was popular. He didn’t get union agreements his first year as mayor, now he settles with them, because an election is coming up. The black clergy wants swimming pools open, so the year before an election, all pools are open, no matter what it takes. He’s in support of libraries again because he found out they’re popular. He has press event after press event—if you wonder why decisions take so long, it’s because he’s prepping for a press conference!”

Suddenly Bill Green, a big, intense man—with a big block of a head like his father’s—emits a quick, saw-toothed guffaw of a laugh. Which only serves to reinforce the point: I mean, Jesus, who’s running this town?

So why not run against Nutter next year?

“I would have considered taking him on,” Bill Green admits, “if not for campaign limits imposed in ’07—you can’t raise money in sizable chunks. And most people are afraid to give in a mayoral race except to the mayor.” Which makes defeating an incumbent next to impossible.

Right about then, a tanned guy in his 60s in a blue suit comes into Nineteen, hunches forward slightly, and squints: Ed Rendell, famously near-sighted, is looking for somebody. He goes off toward the bar.

I nudge Bill Green. What about Rendell? What about the rumor that he might run for mayor?

“I’d love to see it—I’d like to be his chief of staff,” Bill Green laughs. “I’d sign up for that gig right away. People I know ask him, though, and he says no. But Ed would be able to raise the money.”

Bill Green gets up to leave, except he doesn’t leave. He heads toward the bar.

A moment later, he is back:

“I was just talking to Ed,” he says. “I said to him, ‘Don’t you think, if someone can provide the leadership we need, they have an obligation to do so?’”

Rendell laughed and said to Green: “I’m only running if every citizen signs a petition.”

I go to the bar. Ed Rendell is sitting at a table with a middle-aged woman, and I tell him, “I was just talking to Bill Green and … ”

The governor, no fool, is already laughing.

“I’d like you to run too,” I tell him, the impartiality of journalism be damned. “We’ll get a petition.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Ed Rendell says, “only if Herb Lipson”—this magazine’s owner—“writes me a letter.”

“Then you’ll run?”

“We’ll see.”

Herb Lipson likes Bill Green, too. We just might have something here.

ROBERT HUBER is Philly Mag’s features editor.