City Journal: Is Mayor Nutter a Conservative in Disguise?

That’s the theory offered up by Ethan Epstein at the conservative magazine City Journal. (Full disclosure: I co-produce a regular podcast for the magazine’s website.) Epstein’s reasons for diagnosing the mayor as a secret conservative?

• Mayor Nutter’s tough action against Center City “flash mobs” back in 2011:

But Nutter didn’t stop at rhetoric; he threw the weight of the Philadelphia Police Department against the rioters. In mob-afflicted areas, he ramped up police patrols and imposed a weekend curfew of 9 PM for minors. Backing up his tough talk on absentee parents, he increased fines on the parents of kids repeatedly caught breaking curfew, from $300 to $500. Local judges pitched in, sentencing flash mobbers to hefty service terms instead of slapping them on the wrist. Ten first-time offenders who had raided a Macy’s, for example, had to work there for eight weeks, dressing mannequins and greeting shoppers.

• His hiring of Charles Ramsey as police chief, along with its emphasis on every conservative’s favorite tactic, stop-and-frisk:

Another important component of the city’s crime-fighting strategy is stop-and-frisk, the controversial practice of searching suspicious persons for weapons to forestall crime. The Philadelphia Police Department had already used stop-and-frisk prior to Nutter’s election, but he campaigned on ramping it up, and under his mayoralty, the practice has been greatly expanded. In 2005, there were about 100,000 stops; by 2009, there were more than 250,000.

• Getting tough on city unions:

It’s not only on union issues that Nutter’s economic policies have impressed. He’s also worked to make Philadelphia more hospitable for entrepreneurs, cutting several taxes on businesses and vetoing a bill, beloved by the Left, that would have required private enterprises to provide paid sick days to their workers. “I care a great deal about paid sick leave, but I care even more about people getting paid,” Nutter explained. “People need jobs, and that’s our Number One priority.” The city’s unemployment rate is still high, at 10.1 percent, though it’s down from 11.5 percent in 2010.

• His willingness to “talk tough” about African-American culture.

At an address this February to black male students at the Community College of Philadelphia, Nutter’s retro-style cultural outlook was on full display. He acknowledged the toll that Jim Crow and generations of discrimination had taken on the black community; he took a few shots at Ronald Reagan for cutting financial aid to college students. But he took pains to note that today, “the only folks who kill black folks any more are black folks.” In fact, he said, “black folks kill more black folks than the KKK ever did.” Regarding black unemployment, he was equally stern: if you want to get a job, make sure you’re speaking “an understandable form of the English language.”

This in a speech delivered at a Black History Month event!

Not all’s perfect: Epstein criticizes the mayor for, ahem, criticizing PhillyMag for our “Being White in Philly” cover story in February. And Epstein acknowledges a self-identified conservative might never win this overwhelmingly Democratic town.

But, he concludes:  “What would you call a mayor with priorities like Nutter’s—law and order, fiscal prudence, and personal responsibility—if not conservative?”