Mayor Nutter Cruising Toward Re-election

By Colin Kavanaugh, Contributing Writer

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has a deficit problem — and it’s not just the city budget.

In a recent Franklin & Marshall Poll, 53-percent of residents said the city is moving in the wrong direction and favor a change at the mayor’s office. Nutter has been forced to slash the city budget dramatically in the last few years — including unpopular cuts to city libraries and neighborhood pools — that has given him some very dissatisfied constituents.

And yet, the Mayor’s re-election bid looks likely to whisk him back into City Hall for four more years. To date, Nutter’s only primary challenger is Milton Street, recently incarcerated for tax evasion and brother of the former mayor. City Councilman Bill Green and state Sen. Anthony Williams have also opted out and endorsed Nutter’s re-election. And breaking today, the last potential rival Tom Knox has endorsed Nutter as well.

So, why are typically ambitious politicians so hesitant to take on a seemingly vulnerable incumbent?

Here are two big reasons Nutter looks ready to cruise to a second term:

Money, money, money. Nutter has secured a long list of contributors, including Comcast executive David L. Cohen, who hosted the Mayor at the Comcast Center for his first fundraiser in early February. Former Gov. Ed Rendell and local U.S. House Rep. Allyson Schwartz attended the event, making it clear the political and financial power-players are squarely behind him. Nutter ended 2010 with $1.25 million in cash-on-hand, and any challenger would need to raise enough to compete in Philadelphia’s expensive media market. Knox could self-finance, but Street is probably going to need a massive grassroots fundraising operation which, well, doesn’t exist.

Citing Nutter’s money may seem funny given Knox’s willingness to use his substantial wealth to campaign, but look at it this way. All the money in the world isn’t likely to beat Nutter in a one-on-one race given the strong representation of black voters in Philly. Knox’s only hope was to have multi-candidate primary (ideally for Knox, with one or two black challengers to the Mayor). Nutter’s cash kept that from happening.

Endorsements. Despite cutting several popular services in Philly and increasing taxes in his 2011 budget, Nutter has gained the support of the Black Clergy — a critical force in Philly politics, who are giving the Mayor the benefit-of-the-doubt in economically tough times. Though the group did not back Nutter in 2007, their refusal to wait for a challenger to emerge (they endorsed in early February) proves they are pleased with the Mayor’s progress on crime and ability to attract new businesses. At his campaign debut, Nutter recognized he was “wrong” and said “the clergy was right” on some of his proposed cuts. After factoring in Williams’s endorsement, Nutter has effectively limited his opposition to the Street family.

Look for an economic, conciliatory theme to dominate the campaign trail as Nutter makes the case that Philly is turning a corner in its long-term recovery. Even if voters are showing some hesitation about Nutter, his re-election looks like a forgone conclusion.

Managing Editor Keegan Gibson contributed to this report.

February 22nd, 2011 | Posted in Front Page Stories | No Comments