Halfway there: A mid-term grade for Mayor Nutter

    Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter reaches the midpoint of his term this week. Chris Satullo, WHYY’s Director of News and Civic Dialogue grades His Honor on his work so far…

    Listen: [audio: satullo20100103.mp3]

    Two years ago this week, lines snaked around Philadelphia City Hall as citizens welcomed Michael Nutter in as mayor.

    Chances are, a goodly number of those people would now welcome his being ridden out of town on a rail.

    Such are the tribulations of a big city mayor during the Great Recession.

    I still believe Mike Nutter, to revamp a famous old line, is not as bad as some Philadelphians say he is.

    Like Barack Obama on the national level, Nutter suffers from having a political base stocked with naïve, dilettantish liberals. These are people who, by and large, don’t understand economics; nor do they grasp that governing in the real world involves hard choices and messy compromise.

    Like his counterpart in the White House, Nutter has achieved more than even his friends, let alone his enemies, tend to admit.

    Serious crime is down 10 percent, year over year. His GreenWorks environmental strategy is impressive. After a terrible start, he got the city through a fiscal crisis without draconian service cuts. There’s been no whiff of scandal.

    That said, Nutter at mid-term is a bit of a disappointment. Here’s an irony that sums up the problem: The smart guy he hired to craft that GreenWorks plan resigned right after the plan was released.

    The Nutter administration seems full of smart, earnest people who are great at dreaming up big plans, but not so adept at making them happen. Big brains, limited managerial oomph. Think tank bull sessions about how to fix a city are one thing. Actually doing that gritty, exhausting work is another. Particularly in a place as cantankerous and parochial as Philadelphia.

    Nutter also has botched relations with his old colleagues on City Council. Some members who hailed his election now spit his name like a curse. Yes, council is a leaderless, clownish group, but a mayor still has to do better.

    My midterm grade on Michael Nutter? Let’s say B-minus. Okay, I’m a softy, but somebody has to remember that the Great Recession which has constrained Nutter’s dreams simply was not his fault.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.