Will Nutter Evict Occupy Philly?

With Bloomberg clearing Zuccotti Park, now's the time for the mayor to act

The increasingly tense standoff between Occupy Philly and city government is turning into a touchy political test for Mayor Nutter. Evict the Occupiers, and it might get messy (a la Oakland). Let them stay, and thus delay a huge and worthy public works project, and he risks looking weak just as his second term begins.

Up until this weekend, the Nutter administration had opted to accomodate the protesters as much as possible. Now I know there are plenty of Occupiers who would disagree with that, but look around the world at what other mayors have done, and you begin to see just how relatively patient Nutter has been here. For a while, it was a winning strategy. Philly is a Democratic town, after all, and so long as the Occupy movement was generally viewed as representing broad public disgust with Wall Street and the state of the economy, it didn’t hurt the mayor to let them have their say, even if it was at the doorstep of City Hall.

But the Occupy movement seems to be self-consciously distancing itself from mainstream complaints. It’s their choice, of course, but it’s a shame, because they’re likely to end up like most other far left protest movements (i.e. irrelevant), and there was a moment there when the Occupy movement could have been a lot more than that.

In Philly, the best example of this transformation is the internal fissures that have opened up within the Occupy movement over whether or not to leave Dilworth Plaza (so the renovation can begin) and move across the street to the plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building. If Occupy were looking to be a mass movement, one motivated by clear-cut demands for more jobs, more income equality etc., this would be an obvious decision. You move. The renovation is exactly the kind of job-creating public investment that’s likely to drive down unemployment. There’s also the fact that, for the most part, Occupy’s demands—inasmuch as they can be discerned—are directed not at municipal governments, but at the financial system and Washington D.C. I guarantee you that if those are your concerns, you need to be trying to get the attention of someone with more firepower than, say, Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller.

But Occupy isn’t looking to be a mass movement. It’s happily marching into fringe territory. And so it’s motivations are entirely different.

Which brings us back to Nutter. It’s hard to see that he has much of a choice anymore. He’ll probably give it a little more time, but without a dramatic change in tone from Occupy Philly, look for him to evict the protesters so the Dilworth Plaza renovation can go forward. If he does, I don’t see Philadelphians blaming him for it. The administration has bent over backwards to accomodate Occupy Philly (as evidenced by this fascinating Metro-compiled collection of Managing Director Rich Negrin’s Twitter diplomacy), but it’s been obvious for a few weeks now that Nutter’s patience is wearing thin. And so is the patience of everyday Philadelphians, including a lot of those who once sympathized with Occupy Philly. Politically, Nutter can’t let this drag on much longer, particularly not after this weekend and the report of an alleged rape in the campsite.

So long as the police handle the eviction professionally—and we have every reason to think they will, given how well they’ve handled themselves to date—Nutter will come out of this ok. Occupy Philly? Not so much.