When I asked Mayor Nutter several times earlier this year if he would put together a slate of City Council members for this year’s municipal elections, he acted as if Council races had never entered his head.
Fine – he has no obligation to share his plans with me just because I asked. But I wondered if he was giving any thought to putting together a slate of Council candidates.
For years, reformers have complained about the quality of City Council and fantasized about a slate of smart, committed reformers who would start early, raise money, develop a common toss-the-bums-out message and bring a new day to city government.
Nutter didn’t do that for 2011, I suspect for the same reasons past mayors, like Ed Rendell haven’t. They’re first and foremost concerned about their own re-election, and it’s always easier to run without influential politicians in the city, like Council incumbents, mad at you.
And probably more important, the mayor needs to think about how to govern in a second term. He needs support in Council, and opposing an incumbent is a big risk. Back an insurgent who falls short and you’ve made an enemy who can cause trouble for you for the next four years.
So now, a month before the May 17th primary, Nutter’s strategy for Council elections has emerged: he’ll chose from the existing menu of candidates for four open district seats, and hope he’ll have four new friends in Council chambers come January.
It should also be noted that Nutter’s campaign committee has made substantial contributions to six Democratic incumbents on City Council.
Improving his relations with Council is an important goal, both for Nutter politically, and for the citizens he represents. Nutter didn’t do particularly well with Council on some major issues in his first term. New allies in the body could only help.
So the four open district seats, Nutter has made his picks: Mark Squilla, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, Martin Bednarek, and Cindy Bass.
If these folks win, just how close they feel to Nutter will depend in part on what he does to help them. His own campaign fund can donate up to $10,600 to each candidate, but he isn’t limited to that.
He can spend whatever he wants to help his chosen slate as long as the Council candidates aren’t involved in his decisions. He could print thousands of ballots with the Nutter slate and distribute them on election day. He could make TV or radio commercials, send mailings or produce robo-calls.
All that costs money, and the fact that both former mayor John Street and former mayoral candidate Tom Knox have changed their registration and could run against Nutter in the fall might make him a little wary of spending his war chest empty.
When I spoke to Nutter Thursday, he declined to be specific about his plans.
“I take this very seriously,” he said. “I don’t take endorsements lightly and I want the folks I’ve endorsed to win. So I’ll do what I need to do within my realm to help them as much as possible, but they have to be a good candidate and come out and run their race.”
One more tricky decision awaits Nutter. He still hasn’t picked a candidate in the 7th district, where Council freshman Maria Quinones-Sanchez is in a tough re-match with ward leader Dan Savage. Sanchez has been an active and independent Councilwoman, and is generally supported by the same progressive Democrats that were the core of Nutter’s support.
She’s a logical pick for Nutter, but Savage has the support of most of the district’s ward leaders, generally regarded as an edge in a low turnout election. It will be interesting to see what he does.
UPDATE: Nutter has endorsed Quinones-Sanchez for re-election.