In Praise of Mayor Nutter

Has he finally figured the formula for success?

Michael Nutter

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Mayor Nutter did a good thing this week.

Really. His decision to come to an accommodation with Councilman Jim Kenney on pot decriminalization will have widespread benefits in Philadelphia. It will save thousands of otherwise-law-abiding young men and women from an arrest record in their future. It might save some dough at the police department. And it’s probably good for his legacy: In 10 years, almost nobody will remember that he fought Kenney to nearly the last possible moment; they’ll just remember that he was the Philadelphia mayor who signed the decriminalization bill.

He even tweaked the bill in a way that improves it: By adding a $100 fine for smoking pot in public, Nutter moved to ensure that pot use will be a closed-doors activity rather than one for the street corners.  Nobody has to worry about young men smoking weed out in front of a grandmother’s stoop anymore.

Good job, Mayor Nutter! You’re going to get kudos and you deserve them!

In fact, it seems as though Mayor Nutter is undergoing a small-but-measurable late-mayoral renaissance. In addition to the pot bill, there are two other accomplishments in the offing.

• Just a few weeks ago, after years of fighting and dismay, he finally agreed to a contract with District Council 33, the city’s largest municipal workers union.

• And over the summer, he shifted support — after two vetoes — in favor of a bill that would require many of the city’s employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. A special committee is currently sussing out the details on that one.

In other words: Good things are happening at City Hall, and Mayor Nutter is helping make them happen!

Those accomplishments (or near-accomplishments) had a couple of characteristics in common:

• None of these items — save the union contract — would’ve been on the mayor’s priority list if he was running City Hall by his own lights.

• They each came after the mayor crossed a point to certain defeat on the issue. The union contract? The last one expired in 2009 — a new contract should’ve been finalized years ago. The pot bill? Passed by a veto-proof majority. The sick-leave bill? Support had grown during the first two attempts to pass it through council — if it hadn’t achieved a veto-proof majority on the next go-round, it’s likely supporters could’ve waited for Nutter’s successor to take office. In each case, Mayor Nutter figured he wasn’t going to win, and so he tried to win something. That’s what productive politicians do.

• And in the case of the pot bill, Nutter did something he’s been legendarily bad at doing during his term as mayor: He worked with opponents on the City Council to get to a mutually acceptable solution. It’s safe to say there is no love lost between Nutter and Kenney; they managed to put that aside and resolve an issue that the public, it seems, wanted resolved.

Mayor Nutter came to office with tremendous hopes riding on his shoulders; those hopes were largely dashed by his handling of the recession and its aftermath. But there’s still a year to go, and he’s got a winning streak going. Maybe it can last all the way to the end of his term.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.