Eventually, he speaks. “It’s a reminder that the budget is not just a bunch of numbers on a sheet of paper,” Nutter says as the car drives west down Market Street. “Every decision that we make has an impact one way or another. Real people, real lives, real public employees, real citizens.”
The firefighter’s union had been hammering the city over lack of resources lately, and though no one tried to bring politics into McGuire’s injury, the moment was still a sobering gut-check. “I care very passionately about our public employees,” Nutter says softly. “When someone gets hurt, it’s very personal.”
As the SUV nears City Hall, the subject shifts to what extent the recession derailed the mayor’s vision for the city. “The lack of resources is a tremendous challenge,” Nutter says. “I tend not to use the word frustrated. I tend to use my energy to move forward on things I’m trying to get done.” He points out that the gains in education, crime, sustainability and accountability came despite the unprecedented hole in the city budget: “We said we were going to do certain things when I came into office. We did them.”
“We may not have all the money we want, but is there a different way to go about doing something? Is there some creativity, some innovation?” the mayor asks. “I’m a pretty impatient person, I have a sense of urgency. I always want to do more, do things better, do things quicker, get it done yesterday so you can move on to the next thing.”
Nutter’s aware of the criticism surrounding his performance, but says he doesn’t let it bother him. “People often times hear what they want to hear,” he says. “You know, I’m in a position where maybe I have a little more information. Or can see some other things. This is like three-dimensional chess in the dark here. You have to be able to see it a couple steps ahead on the chess board and how all the different pieces move together.”
“I don’t let negative comments, negative energy get in the way,” the mayor continues. “I do listen. I hear what people say, and I pay attention to the details.”
“When you’re the mayor, you get a lot of praise and a lot of criticism. It all works out,” he concludes. “When I look at myself in the mirror at night, or first thing in the morning when I’m shaving, as long as I know that I did the best I could do with the resources that I have, then, you know, what else can I do?”
The Tahoe pulls up on the City Hall apron, but the day is far from over. Tomorrow is the big budget address in front of City Council, and the team still needs to prepare. Nutter and Butler head inside with a long night in front of them, staying at City Hall until past 11 p.m. hammering out the final details of the speech.
The next day, Mayor Nutter ambles into the packed City Council chambers on the fourth floor of City Hall after the legislative body’s normal Thursday morning meeting. The bulk of the city’s government leadership sits to the side, including Street, while Nutter faces Council head on and lays out his plan for the year.
“We gather at a time of great opportunity and great threat,” he says. “At a time of hope and caution. A time when we’ve won hard-fought stability, but tremendous uncertainty still lies ahead.”
No absent-minded hand gestures. No umms. This is a polished, rehearsed speech. The budget he describes keeps his promise of no service cuts and no new fees or taxes, for now. There are some goodies in it—$1 million to promote adult literacy, $4.4 million to fix the city’s broken property tax system, another $4.4 million to the fire department. And $6.4 million for a new class of 120 police officers, the first since 2009. Everything dependent, of course, on just how drastic the state and federal cuts are, and how much help the School District needs. Even new taxes could be back on the table if the incoming cuts are deep enough. But for now, Nutter tries to keep the focus on optimism.
“We’re going to stand up and fight for the budget that I introduce today,” he tells Council. “I believe that this is a time—not for dejection or despondency—but for determination, strength, resilience and hope.”
After years of bad news, maybe a positive attitude is just what the city needs. “We need to get used to the fact that Philadelphia is a city on the rise,” the mayor says.
He ends the speech with a charge to the city. “We’re fighting our way back,” the mayor says. “We’re getting things done.”
“Philly, we’re on the rise.”
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PW fanned out into the neighborhoods to find out people’s feelings on the mayor in general, as well as on specific issues. Here’s what you had to say.
How could this be? As councilman, Nutter was instrumental in creating the law to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees. Once mayor, he hired a director of LGBT affairs, and even raised a rainbow flag outside City Hall for Gay History Month last October.
Critics are uncomfortable with the idea that the mayor can just waltz back to re-election unopposed. “The consequences are we don’t have any vibrant discussion about the leadership of the city, don’t have competing ideas about how the city should be run."
PW's Music Issue 2014