Mayor Nutter’s Marathon-Sized Balls and the Era of Doing Big Things Well

What is this "New Philly" you speak of?

You may have read over on that Mayor Michael Nutter made a last-second pitch to host the canceled New York City Marathon. Well, over on Be Well Philly yesterday, Philly Mag’s health and fitness editor, Emily Leaman, expressed skepticism about the offer—asking, quite fairly, how exactly it was going to be accomplished in such a short window.

The Mayor responded via Twitter that the city was very much ready, Philly does big things well, and that, like The Hold Steady (my analogy, not the Mayor’s), we’ve got to stay positive. Nutter has indeed been a very effective cheerleader for the city.

Of course, over on the new-look/same-tired-commenters, the news was met with the usual Negadelphia chorus of ad hominem Nutter-bashing (“What a stupid idea. How did he expect to put on a marathon in less than 1 week? In addition, did he really think that the thousands who came from out of town would rush down to Philly to take part in the race?”); mindlessly rote Philly trashing (“Hey there would be more people on [sic] the city to mug, shoot at and kill. Wouldn’t that be good for the city?”); and moron logic/grammar (“‘Nutter TRIED to get NYC Marathon here’. It’s as simple as this – Losers TRY…Winners SUCCEED. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, are Nutter’s [sic]”).

Do I think that the city could have pulled off, in just 24 hours, staging the New York City Marathon? Who the hell knows? Certainly the fact that preparations for the November 18th Philadelphia Marathon are well under way would have been in the city’s favor. And the administration must be feeling pretty juiced up given its “we’ve got this” handling of Gigantastorm Sandy. But that’s sort of beside the point.

It’s a strange time to be a Philadelphian. It’s like we’re at this crossroads between old, hater city and new, “doing big things well” city.

It’s certainly difficult to imagine some previous administrations arriving at, “Hey, this is gonna sound totally crazy but stay with me: New York City Marathon. In Philly. Tomorrow.” Not necessarily because Street or Rendell or Goode or (hah!) Rizzo couldn’t have grasped how narrative-changing Philly hosting New York City’s marathon would be, but because Philly was different back then, back before Made In America happened; before the Phillies won the 2008 World Series; before Philly Beer Week became the best week in the country; before Jose Garces and the Roots were famous (outside Philly). Back then, big things didn’t get done well. Sometimes they got done, but with a whole lot of agita (like when we tried to locate our new stadia). Sometimes they got done, but with a lot of headaches (like the 2000 Republican convention). And sometimes they didn’t get done—and poorly besides (like Wireless Philadelphia. Aw.)

I’m gonna be honest here. Maybe it’s just my own uncontrollable Philly positivity, but I’m almost thinking we could have pulled off this marathon—with some hitches and unintended consequences, yes, but yeoman given the turnaround time. What a boost for that old Philly inferiority complex. And don’t think for a second that the Mayor wasn’t exhibiting a little civic showmanship.

That the Mayor feels confident enough in his team, and in his city, to attempt the seemingly impossible, suggests that, well, maybe that inferiority complex ain’t what it used to be. The knee-jerk naysayers notwithstanding (trolls gotta be trolls), maybe we’re finally growing out of that awkward, ascendant city phase. Are we finally at the point where we can be critical and constructive at the same time? It’s a crazy idea, I know—about as crazy as throwing a last-minute marathon— but maybe “New Philly” is finally the new normal. And if so, maybe we don’t have to be positive 100 percent of the time to counteract the Hatorade riptide that characterized the city for so long.