Having served as Fourth District City Councilman from 1992 to 2006, many Northwest Philadelphians considered Michael Nutter a friendly neighbor when he won the mayoral election four years ago.
As Nutter closes in on what’s expected to be a re-election victory next Tuesday, neighborhood leaders from Chestnut Hill, East Falls, Germantown, Manayunk, Mt. Airy, Roxborough and West Oak Lane were asked about the impact he’s had on their areas over the past four years.
More importantly, they also noted what they hope to see from him over the next four years in which – barring unexpected election results – he’ll serve without concern for how decisions impact his mayoral re-election prospects.
Tom Sauerman, president of the East Falls Community Council, volunteered on Nutter’s election campaign and supports “almost everything” the mayor has done to overcome “all kinds of problems and odds that he didn’t create.” Still, he turned a critical eye toward a specific first-term misstep.
“Clearly he made a mistake on the library business. That infuriated East Falls residents because our library is so important to us. It’s right across the street from Mifflin Elementary and it serves so many children, seniors, everybody,” he noted of Nutter’s proposal to shutter libraries in the face of financial woes. “We had to rally against him and he backed off for which we’re very pleased.”
He pointed to business-tax reform, declining homicide rates, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s departure, designs on making Philadelphia the greenest city in the country and naming Lorene Cary of East Falls to the SRC as positive steps.
Upon learning of the latter, Sauerman said, “I sent Mayor Nutter a great big thank you note written with a felt tip pen thanking him for nominating her.”
As for the next four years, Sauerman thinks Nutter should focus on getting rid of DROP “but that depends on us … to elect some people with common sense.” He’s happy with the job current Councilman Curtis Jones has done but “this election is a wonderful opportunity to make changes in city council and also in city commissioners as well. It’s time to have a major shake up.”
John Churchville, president of the Greater Germantown Business Association and chairman of the Liberation Fellowship CDC, said he appreciated Nutter’s creation of the sustainability department. Prioritizing a push to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the country “is really important,” he said.
“The more trees are planted, the lower the crime rate. Planting trees are cheaper than more police,” he said. “”The future is green, if you look at the global crisis its really important. … We can’t just throw away trash like it’s not going to affect our grandchildren.”
While Churchville said he wanted to work with the Mayor’s office and City on future projects – the CDC is currently doing so in an effort to revitalize Germantown Town Hall — he doesn’t think politicians are saviors.
“Really, no one person in any political office can do what citizens should do,” he said. “Let them know what you want and hold them to it.”
Manayunk Development Corp. Executive Director Jane Lipton agreed that Nutter has “done the best that he could or that anyone could” given the economic climate.
Discussing Nutter’s support for her organization’s efforts in the neighborhood, Lipton pointed to Nutter’s support of a multi-million dollar project to transform the Manayunk Bridge into a recreation path and connector between the city and Montgomery County.
“That would not have happened without the Mayor driving that issue,” said Lipton, who applauded Nutter’s accessibility and visibility.
But Lipton isn’t without her disappointments.
She said she was unhappy that Nutter vetoed a bill that would have gradually reduced parking taxes in the city from 20 percent to 17 percent over a three-year period. Nutter argued that such a move would cost the cash-strapped city too much.
“We were hoping to get it rolled back because less parking expense equals economic revitalization,” said Lipton, who testified in support of the measure in City Council.
That said, Lipton is optimistic about Nutter’s likely second term as mayor.
“If I look at him through the lens of this district, I think that we’re going to see phenomenal things come out of the city for this Northwest section of Philadelphia,” said Lipton. “This is the right mayor at the right time with the right handle on the city.”
Moving forward, Lipton’s top priorities for the city include giving people “a decent chance for a decent job,” reducing the city’s wage tax and improving public education.
Over at the Roxborough Development Corp., executive director Bernard Guet pointed to support and funding for Ridge Avenue construction.
“Our commercial corridor depends on funding from city and state and right now they can’t give us funding so it’s very difficult but that’s nobody’s fault,” he said.
The furor over poor conditions at, and possible closing of, the Kendrick Rec Center, was fresh in Guet’s mind after a recent rally.
“If we do nothing at Kendrick, we close the center and what are kids going to do?” he asked. “They are going to be bored and will do something wrong. We want to let them play basketball, play sports there but there is no money. … We are in a vicious cycle going the wrong way. The city is putting more taxes on businesses, making less money for businesses, the businesses close and leave which leaves the city with less money. And it goes on and on.”
That said, Guet said he understands that taxes are necessary to pay for schools, which are necessary to ensure a solid future.
“I don’t like the increase in the real estate tax, it doesn’t please me at all. It’s a lot of money and $300 for each of our businesses to pay for trash tax isn’t pleasant either,” he said, hoping the economy turns to break the cycle. “But, the Mayor and council members are doing their best.”
Kevin Peters, the immediate past president of West Mt. Airy Neighbors, pointed to the launch of the 311 system as a major accomplishment.
“Before 311, residents often called WMAN rather than city agencies because the agencies were largely unresponsive, and since there was no tracking of calls, agencies were unaccountable to residents,” he said. “Not long after 311 launched, WMAN saw a dramatic drop in calls about minor problems like potholes, trash collection [and] barking dogs, freeing our staff to tackle bigger issues.”
Speaking as a Mt. Airy parent, Peters would like to see more attention paid to public-school issues.
“We have some great neighborhood K-8 schools in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, and I’m proud to say my son had an excellent experience at Henry School,” he said. “But I’d like to see the Mayor more out front on strengthening, supporting and promoting our public schools. His recent appointments to the School Reform Commission, and the more active role of Lori Schorr with the SRC, are a good first step.”
Kristen Mosbrucker, Aaron Moselle, Megan Pinto and Alan Tu contributed to this report.