Nutter to be inaugurated amid high hopes

January 5, 2008 2:47:28 PM PST
Michael Nutter, the mayor-elect who has promised to clean up the city, literally and figuratively, is finally getting the chance to put his plans into action. Expectations are high for Nutter, a Democratic former city councilman who will become Philadelphia's 98th mayor when he takes the oath of office Monday at the historic Academy of Music.

"I think there's a tremendous sense of optimism," said Zack Stalberg, president of the government watchdog group The Committee of 70. "Really, I can't remember this amount of good feeling prior to an inauguration."

Nutter issued a call to public service a day after defeating Republican challenger Al Taubenberger by a 4-1 margin, and his transition team was deluged with thousands of resumes after asking for the best and brightest to join his administration.

"We have an opportunity here to make Philadelphia the greatest turnaround story of any city in the last 50 years, but I need your help and support to make that happen," Nutter said at a post-election breakfast. "We are going to clean up this government."

Nutter got a good start during his nearly 15 years as a councilman by helping to create the city ethics board. In his mayoral campaign, he ran as a reformer, sharply criticizing what many feel is a deeply entrenched pay-to-play culture at City Hall.

More than a dozen people were convicted in a federal corruption probe during outgoing Mayor John Street's administration; some had close ties to the mayor, but Street denied wrongdoing and was never charged. He could not run for office again because of term limits.

Nutter's landslide victory was expected in this heavily Democratic city, but he needs to work to keep the momentum going, said Gov. Ed Rendell, a popular former two-term mayor of the city.

"You've got to find ways to engage people and convince them that they're part of the tidal wave that's turning things around," Rendell said. "He has to try to go to every invitation he gets ... even if it's just a five-minute stop. He has to be omnipresent."

Perhaps the most serious issue Nutter faces is a murder rate that is among the highest of major U.S. cities.

He advocates controversial "stop, question and frisk" searches to fight crime in violent neighborhoods. The tactic is supported by former District of Columbia police Chief Charles Ramsey, Nutter's choice to replace retiring Philadelphia police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. But some worry that it violates civil liberties and will erode trust between residents and police.

Nutter was criticized last week by the police union for choosing Everett Gillison as deputy mayor for public safety. Gillison was one of two public defenders who represented Solomon Montgomery, a man who pleaded guilty to the 2006 shotgun slaying of police Officer Gary Skerski.

An administration spokesman defended the pick, citing Gillison's abilities and noting that as a public defender, he was not able to choose assignments.

Nutter is also concerned with how the nation's sixth-largest city is perceived, both by outsiders and its 1.4 million residents. He has said he wants make Philadelphia fun and play the cheerleading role embraced by Rendell during his tenure from 1992-99.

Even as Nutter called Philadelphia a "filthy mess" during the campaign and pledged a citywide cleanup, he noted residents have an unjustified inferiority complex.

"We are Philadelphia and we need to be proud of it," Nutter said.

Because Nutter, 50, is seen as a can-do guy with the smarts and dedication to carry out his vision, Stalberg said the incoming mayor has created high expectations among the electorate.

"That could end up being a problem for Nutter," he said. "But for now, people are feeling quite good."

After the inauguration, Nutter's cabinet members will be sworn in at City Hall. Nutter is then scheduled to attend a luncheon for students and mentors, followed by evening festivities at the Naval Yard's cruise ship terminal.