Mayor Nutter's Couch Session

It's time for our all-too-human mayor to toughen up.

By Joel Mathis
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 24, 2009

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Mayor Nutter has some regrets. Should the rest of us?

Photo by RayBanBro66, via Flickr.

Now we know: Philly’s not-quite-terminal case of wussiness starts at the top. Mayor Nutter showed as much last week in an interview with the Daily News when he confessed that being mayor is hard. “The reality is, in [the job as mayor] you don’t have to work on one thing,” he cried. “You have to work on 50 things.” Maybe he didn’t say it in a whiny voice, but it sure read that way on paper. His words made you want to respond: “Tough shit. We know running Philadelphia is hard, Mr. Mayor, because we’ve seen plenty of men do the job badly over the last 30 years. And we hired you to do it well, not complain about it. Get to it.”

To be fair, Nutter used the interview to do something politicians rarely do: Admit mistakes. He acknowledged that he’d handled the budget crisis sloppily at times, especially with last year’s thwarted closure of library branches. He admitted he needs to do a better job relating to the City Council. That’s all good. But damn if Nutter didn’t sound like he was participating in a group therapy session. Take this quote: “I’m a lifelong learner and I’m still learning,” Nutter told the Daily News. “And because I really am human and still the guy from 55th and Larchwood, I’m going to continue to learn and continue to grow. From time to time I’m going to make mistakes because I’m human. It’s a constant reflection process for me to try to figure out how can I be better.”

That whole passage really plays much better if you read it out loud with some string accompaniment. It makes you want to take Nutter by the lapels, like Don Corleone did with Johnny Fontaine, and slap him across the face. “ACT LIKE A MAN!” If Godfather references won’t work, maybe Nutter can take a piece of advice from—of all people—Sarah Palin. Last year, while running for vice president, she took a shot at Barack Obama that was both snide and true. “My fellow citizens,” Palin told the Republican National Convention, “the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of ‘personal discovery.’” She’s right. And the same is true of the Philadelphia mayorship. Nobody cares about Michael Nutter’s self-actualization. We just want him to get the job done. Listen, we knew what we were getting when we elected Nutter to the city’s top spot: A mild-mannered reformer, kind of a nerd, not one of those bare-knuckled pols you find in the proverbial smoke-filled room. In normal times, Nutter’s cerebral approach might’ve been perfect for this city.

The reality is that times are tough, and they’re likely to stay that way for a while. So what Philly needs is more than a blandly competent technocrat whose public utterances sound like they come from a psychiatrist’s couch. We need a mayor who leads by example. One who doesn’t complain about the tough times, but instead shows the rest of us how to deal with them with a little Philly fighting spirit.

Governor Ed Rendell also has a tough job, but you don’t hear him whining about it. Rendell spent the summer facing off against a Republican-controlled legislature that refused to pass a responsible state budget. Did Rendell complain? Did he talk about opportunities for personal growth? No! He got on a treadmill and lost 40 pounds.

“I thought this would give me something to strive for, something positive that I could see happening compared to the lack of progress with the budget,” Rendell told the Inquirer in August. And it’s true: He looks a lot leaner. It might well be impossible for Rendell to get meaner, though. 

Philly’s problems obviously won’t be solved if Nutter drops a pound or two, but the mayor can take a cue from Rendell by publicly, defiantly and cheerfully not letting the bastards—in the form of the city’s many challenges—grind him down. Bringing some attitude and dropping the woe-is-me meekness might serve the city in more ways than Nutter knows. So fix what needs to be fixed, Mr. Mayor. Stop talking about how hard it is. And start fighting. It’s time to man up. ■

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