Philadelphians offer some early indications on the mayor’s chances of re-election.
The boos poured in, loud and strong, while Mayor Michael A. Nutter stood at a podium in front of a huge American flag, chanting “Yes we can! Yes we can!” He was trying to fire up the crowd at an October rally for President Obama in Germantown, but the people jeered instead, letting loose their frustrations with the mayor. Finally, Nutter gave up, waved briefly and walked away from the microphone, a grimace of frustration flashing across his face.
The rally was in stark contrast to the mayor’s appearance at the South Street Bridge re-opening a month later. “The South Street Bridge is a win for Philadelphia!” he played to the crowd, and the assembled people cheered and cheered. This time when he finished his speech, Nutter posed for pictures and marched across the bridge and down South Street with the West Powelton Steppers drill team, unable to suppress the huge grin spread across his face. The mayor was having fun.
Because the mayor is received so differently depending on where he is and what he’s doing, it’s difficult to project what will happen as he prepares to run for re-election next year. After three difficult years in office, his term to date primarily has been defined by huge deficits and massive budget cuts. While the mayor has gotten sympathy for being charged with cleaning up an economic meltdown, he has also faced criticism for cutting police, fire and library services, while not addressing entrenched, intrinsic waste and mismanagement that plagues city government. And while he has taken a lead on a number of progressive issues like sustainable government and LGBT rights, Nutter has taken heat for being out of touch with large parts of Philadelphia, particularly in black neighborhoods—former Mayor John Street went so far as to call Nutter “not a black mayor.”
What exactly do the people of Philadelphia think about Nutter? Reliable polling data is scarce. A Pew poll from February found 53 percent approval versus 32 percent disapproval, with 65 percent of white voters approving against only 43 percent of black voters. And a poll by Municpoll in August showed Nutter leading potential primary challenger Sam Katz by 38 to 34 percent, with 28 percent undecided. Neither survey tells us much: One is nearly a year old, and the other based on a hypothetical race that Katz has already announced he will not participate in.
Other potential challengers have been eyeing a primary bid against the mayor, among them former contender Tom Knox and likely future candidate Councilman Bill Green. Nutter’s detractors tend to be high-profile and outspoken, but until somebody steps up to the plate to actually challenge the mayor in the polls, their denunciations grow stale. We already know what they think about Nutter. What we want to know is what you think, not John Street but the man on the street, the average Philadelphian, the actual voters Nutter will need to woo come election season. 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:
Ronald Story, 42, homeless peer counselor, Southwest Philly: So far, what I hear is he doing good. He doing what he has to do. I can’t really speak bad about the guy.
Faith Corman, 48, Center City, jewelry artist: He’s well-intentioned. I know he’s trying to do some things for the arts. In fact, City Hall does have an additional art forum they opened up, Room 116 in addition to the regular arts program they have. I see him around at a lot of things supporting the arts. Mayors like to get their faces out, but the types of things he comes to show where his support and interest lie. People are so impatient with such short attention spans, that I think they lose a sense of reality that things cannot be done like that … I think at some point you feel good about someone to vote for, not just because they’re the lesser of two evils but because you really support them, you have to give them a little trust that they’re making the best decisions that they can.
Vote for Nutter in 2011? I’ll want to see who he’s running against, but I suspect that I will.
Mike McFarland, 20, Temple student, Bustleton: I don’t agree with a lot of what I’ve heard about his policies, but he’s done an OK job in general … it hasn’t gotten any better, but it hasn’t got that much worse.
Vote for Nutter in 2011? Yeah, I’d vote for him again.
Stephanie Singer, 46, 8th District Democratic ward leader, Rittenhouse: I think he’s cleaned up some things and there are things that would not have come to light under a different administration, like the situation at PHA. I think he’s instituted some good government practices. The [city’s] website is a million times more useful than it was before and I think that was his leadership. I think that even though the 311 did not succeed it’s something that should succeed at some point.
Bonnie Davis, 63, retired, Center City: I think he’s great. I think he cares about reducing the deficit. I’m for him all the way. Everything he does is for Philly. And if it hurts some people, that’s a shame. You know a lot of people are gonna be hurting in the next couple years. I was in a shelter and he helped out there.
Vote for Nutter in 2011? Oh yeah.
Richard Emmons, 26, bartender, Manayunk: I know one thing about Nutter. He pissed me off, man. One year ago. Canada offered Philadelphia this machine that took care of the snow, and Nutter paid no attention. So it went to New York, eventually, and it was a hit ... and we got fucked. You remember how bad the snow last year was? I like Nutter, I think he’s a good man, but I think he made a horrible decision there.
Vote for Nutter in 2011? I will not vote for Nutter, because of the snow thing. I think he’s good, but I won’t vote for him. I don’t know if that’s fucked up.
Mickey Majzic, 20, Temple student, Fishtown: I’m not really a fan. In Fishtown he was trying to close down the library, Fishtown rec, the pool. He even made cuts in the police district. I feel like you really can’t cut cops. Same thing, they closed down one of the ladder stations right down the street from my house. I don’t follow it too much, I just know what I see in the streets around my neighborhood. There’s never really a good way to cut the budget, but he could have gone about it a different way.
Vote for Nutter in 2011? Probably not. Time for a change I guess.
Bradley Holmes, 23, engineer, Manayunk: In this economy, he’s doing the best he can, you know? People feel bad about his policies, like when he tried to close down the libraries and some of that stuff, but he’s just trying to get by. Philly’s surviving. He’s making tough decisions … someone has to make tough decisions or we’ll go bankrupt. Look at Pittsburgh. You wanna end up like that?
As we begin to poke our heads out of two and a half years of recessionary rubble, the city’s outlook is starting to look brighter. Threats still remain, but Nutter, odds-on favorite to win election to a second term this year, implores you to have faith.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide