Could Darrell Clarke Be Philly’s Next Mayor?

If Obama takes Nutter to Washington, that would happen.

I’m pretty sure Mayor Nutter was trying to strike a note of grim determination in yesterday’s inaugural address, but mostly what I took away was the grim. The contrast between the buoyant new mayor of four years ago and the battered and cautious (but determined!) figure we saw yesterday was pretty profound.

It was hard not to wonder: Does Mayor Nutter still love his job? Would he be willing to leave it, if the right offer came along? The idea seemed silly to me just a year or two ago. As rough as his first term was, I always had the sense that Nutter really relished being mayor. That did not appear to be the case yesterday.

Say President Obama is narrowly re-elected, owing in part to his victory in Pennsylvania, powered as always by a huge Democratic turnout in Philadelphia. Is it crazy to think Obama might reward Nutter with a prominent position in his administration? I don’t think so. True, Nutter endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2008. Since then, though, Nutter has been one of Obama’s most prominent and visible big city soldiers. Nutter has been as effective as any other mayor at spreading Obama’s talking points in the national media, on everything from the stimulus, to the debt ceiling fight, to the stalled jobs plan and so on. Indeed, Nutter’s image nationally is really very good, despite his problems at home.

A cabinet position might be a stretch for a mayor of Philadelphia. When those slots go to politicians, they tend to be former governors or senators. But Nutter is more than qualified to be the face of, say, the Obama administration’s urban public health initiatives or energy conservation.

What then, for Philadelphia? Meet Mayor Darrell Clarke. The newly elected City Council President would fill in for Mayor Nutter until the next general election. Clarke isn’t typically included when people talk about potential mayoral contenders, but that could change in a hurry if he was running as an incumbent. He’s the natural heir to what’s left of Mayor John Street’s base. And unlike former Council President Anna Verna, Clarke is ambitious and young enough (58, though he looks much younger) to consider it. Racial politics being what they are in Philadelphia, that means a Mayor/Candidate Clarke could be a real threat to other African American pols who might be interested in the job, most notably District Attorney Seth Williams and State Senator Anthony Williams.

Would Philly really embrace a John Street protege after 4+ years of Michael Nutter? Just ask Richardson Dilworth. The greatest reform mayor in the city’s history resigned early to run for governor. He was succeeded by Council President Jim Tate, an old-school machine politician, who was re-elected to two more terms, undoing much of what Dilworth accomplished.