Legacy Talk: Michael Nutter Saves the City

The Mayor must keep pressing his point on taking responsibility

Mayor Nutter, you’ve opened the door the whole way this time. I applaud you. You said what needed to be said, at your church on Sunday. But here’s the thing: That’s just the first step. It was bold, it was loud. And now, Mr. Mayor, there is no turning back. You can’t turn around and close that door.

Not after Sunday. Mr. Mayor, we heard you loud and clear, from the pulpit of Mount Carmel Baptist Church on Race Street, after another horrible round of flash-mob violence:

“If you want … anybody else to respect you and not be afraid when they see you walking down the street, then leave the innocent people who are walking down the street minding their own damn business—leave them alone.”

And …

“Parents who neglect their children, who don’t know where they are, who don’t know what they’re doing, who don’t know who they’re hanging out with, you’re going to find yourself spending some quality time with your kids in jail. … Maybe you’re sending them a check or bringing some cash by, that’s not being a father. … And if you’re not providing the guidance and you’re not sending any money, you’re just a sperm donor.”

Very tough stuff, but it needed to be said. And we know, Mr. Mayor, that your views aren’t brand-new, that they didn’t spring from the current trouble, that your heart and soul isn’t just about keeping Center City safe for white people. The Inquirer reminded us yesterday that when a Greek picnic segued into violence in 1998, for example, back when you were a Councilman, you railed, ”It’s not about what the white man did. It’s not about slavery or oppression. It’s about nothing. It’s about being ignorant and disrespectful.”

But that was a mere peek through the crack in the door, compared to Sunday’s blast from the pulpit:

“Take those Goddarn hoodies down, especially in the summer. Pull your pants up and buy a belt, ’cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt. Nobody.” The congregation applauded.

You went on, “If you walk into somebody’s office with your hair uncombed and a pick in the back, and your shoes untied, and your pants half down, tattoos up and down your arms and on your neck, and you wonder why somebody won’t hire you? They don’t hire you ’cause you look like you’re crazy!”

Mr. Mayor, it needed to be said. The stakes are high. And you’ve put your finger on the real problem facing our poorest people: Families have imploded from within. The sport that flash mobs seem to be playing, these roving bands of kids laughing in the faces of innocent people they beat up–laughing in the faces of all of us–is simply more evidence of that. You also said:

“You’ve damaged yourself, you’ve damaged another person, you’ve damaged your peers and, quite honestly, you’ve damaged your own race. You damaged your own race.”

I’ve often thought your legacy was looking slim, Mr. Mayor. Now, it seems to me, you have a choice: You can continue to hammer away at the most important problem facing your city–and flash mobs are just a symptom of that, not the essence–or you can back away into the safety of I’ve said my piece. How can a mayor solve such a horrendous and comprehensive problem?

You can begin to solve it by talking about it–not occasionally, but often. In fact, continuously. By making the crisis of inner-city families–black families–your central issue. There’s huge risk there, politically. There’s also the possibility of gaining national standing. But political risk or popularity is not the point. The point is that you’ve opened the door wide to speak boldly on the pressing issue of your time in your city.  And you can’t turn away from that.

You’ve got a bully pulpit, Mr. Mayor. Don’t just leave it to Sunday.