Michael Nutter’s Big Disappointment at the DNC

So Philadelphia's mayor talked about schools. Interesting choice.

Five minutes. Michael Nutter had five minutes in the national spotlight, five minutes to make the case for Barack Obama’s re-election—and five minutes, incidentally, to groom himself for something bigger and better than being Philadelphia’s mayor.

Nutter may have accomplished those things—he was briefly a trending topic on Twitter Thursday night—but he also did something totally unexpected when he spoke to the Democratic National Convention: In just five minutes, he loudly and vocally reminded Philadelphians why he’s been such a tremendous disappointment to this city.

That, of course, wasn’t his intent. Instead, his clearly designated role for the night was to attack GOP candidate Mitt Romney on the topic of education.


Nutter reprised an already-well-worn anecdote about Romney’s May visit to a West Philly classroom, in which Romney suggested that class size wasn’t a big deal. That wasn’t Romney’s greatest moment, but Nutter’s use of the story—and overall focus on education—implicitly invited the question: So, how are Philadelphia schools doing?

And, of course, they’re doing lousy.

That’s not Nutter’s fault, entirely. He only controls a couple of seats on the School Reform Commission that oversees the city’s schools. But that level of involvement means his hands are stained with the ongoing failure of our education system here.

Test scores are lousy. When they’re good, they’re probably the result of cheating. Graduation rates stink. The city’s schools are so violent that the Philadelphia Inquirer just won a Pulitzer for reporting about them. The district is broke. And it just gave a golden parachute to its superintendent to leave town.

So it was astonishing for Mayor Nutter to stand before the nation and give a lecture about the importance of good public schools to Mitt Romney.

“We can’t grow the middle class if we don’t give our kids the tool they need to invent and invest,” Nutter said. “But first we have to invest in them.”

As Bill Clinton said on Wednesday night, in another context: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.” It also takes some brass to attack a guy for something you can’t get done. That’s exactly what Nutter did.

And then it got worse: Nutter placed his attack in the context of explaining government’s proper role in keeping society together. “We take care of our own. We keep our neighbors safe, we shovel the snow. We get stuff done.”

But we don’t! Our neighbors are being murdered at a rate of nearly one a day. And Philadelphians would be shocked to discover that snow removal is on the list of things about which Nutter can say: “We get stuff done.”

Not all of this stuff is the Mayor’s fault. The problems are deep, entrenched, and existed long before he took the city’s reins. But during his five minutes in the national spotlight, Nutter implicitly invited the nation—and Republicans in particular—to examine how well the city is actually being governed. It’s not a story that will flatter Nutter, and even worse: It’s not a story that will flatter Philadelphia.

Michael Nutter should hope he enhanced his own national standing on Thursday. Because he probably didn’t help himself at home.