Mayor Michael Nutter won’t be one of the more visible speakers at the Democratic National Convention. Only those who hit the network sweet spot between 10 and 11 p.m. will get any real notice beyond insiders and political junkies.
But the fact that he’s wanted at all in Charlotte offers the chance to pose some questions: Just how big a deal is our mayor? Big enough to get offered a Cabinet job in a second Obama administration? And would he take it if such an offer came?
Nutter is mayor of the nation’s fifth-largest city, and gets his share of national media interviews — on the cable networks and even the Sunday network shows on occasion. He’s president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors — again, not something civilians follow, but known to government insiders and a great networking arena.
The fact that he’s our local guy can lead us to overestimate his stature, and underestimate it, too.
For some perspective, I called Larry Sabato, a widely quoted observer of national politics who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
He said Nutter is a force.
While he’s unknown to most voters across the country, Sabato said, “All the political players know Mayor Nutter. They know who he is, and have a general idea of what he’s done.”
Further, Sabato said, he’s regarded as a big city mayor who’s done well coping with a lot of tough urban issues, and as a guy who’s managed to connect with Republicans and independents.
A Cabinet post is not out of the question, Sabato said.
“Oh, I think inevitably he will be considered for higher office, whether it’s elective office in Pennsylvania or appointive office during President Obama’s second term,” he said.
Others whose opinions I respect echoed Sabato’s assessment. You can’t say it’s likely Obama would tap Nutter for a top job, but it’s within the realm of possibility.
It’s worth remembering that Nutter campaigned for Hillary Clinton against Obama in the 2008 Pennsylvania primary. It’s not a disqualifying sin, but it means he wasn’t in on the ground floor with the president. To be sure, he’s since been an enthusiastic booster and surrogate for Obama.
Nutter isn’t saying anything about his future plans except that he’s focused on his second term, which ends in January 2016.
So would he go if the president called?
I have no idea, but just looking at where he sits, it strikes me that getting out of Dodge soon wouldn’t be a bad career move.
As mayor, he survived a horrific financial crisis, and the city hasn’t crumbled. He restored integrity to the government, and can point to some improvements here and there.
What lies ahead? A change in the property tax system that could be widely reviled, a growing crime problem that seems nowhere near under control, a school system that’s a financial shipwreck, and a City Council that hasn’t exactly been cooperating and will be crawling with members who want the mayor’s job. Just how much fun can that be?
If he stays, he gets credit for sticking it out and meeting his commitment to voters. But plenty of bad things could happen that tarnish his image
And if the president asks you to serve, don’t you have a duty to answer the call?
All that said, I think the most likely prospect is that the president won’t call city hall with a job, and Nutter will finish his second term and consider his options.
But if I were the mayor spending a few days in Charlotte, I’d play it for all it’s worth.