PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In his first bid for mayor, then-city councilman Michael Nutter swept to victory by better than a 4-to-1 margin over Republican business leader Al Taubenberger in a mild-mannered affair that ended with Taubenberger introducing his opponent as mayor-elect the next day.
Hours after the resounding defeat, a smiling Taubenberger told a gathering of business leaders that “Philadelphia chose the right man.”
In Nutter’s bid for a second term, he remains the overwhelming favorite over longshot Republican Karen Brown on Tuesday. His opponent has little money and Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 6-to-1, hasn’t had a Republican mayor in nearly 60 years.
But the tone has been far from that of the friendly match Nutter and Taubenberger waged in 2007. Brown, a longtime Democrat and former math teacher who switched parties to challenge Nutter, has criticized him on issues from crime and spending to jobs and education.
“Every election has to be taken seriously. I don’t take anything for granted,” the 54-year-old Nutter said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that the big difference between 2007 and this year is that now he has a mayoral record to defend. “I did what I said I was going to do on issues of crime, on issues of education, on issues of integrity.”
That assessment is being challenged by his opponent, a political newcomer who chides Nutter for being “a politician.”
“This is a golden opportunity to look beyond the party and vote for the person,” said Brown, 52, a married mother of three grown children. “Stop voting the politicians in.”
Brown notes that though crime is down 18 percent from four years, Nutter had vowed on his 2008 inauguration day to reduce it 30 to 50 percent in three to five years. And she points to an increase in homicides over last year. She also cites turmoil and failure in the city’s school system and says Nutter has not done enough to add jobs and that he has made the city more unfriendly to business.
Nutter questions Brown’s grasp of the facts, noting many of her factual missteps in their only debate last month, a spirited affair in which both traded repeated barbs. His years of experience in government, he said, make him a better leader. And he notes the city took a big hit in the financial crisis that slowed some of the improvements he had hoped to put in place.
“We’ve also had to steer this government through the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Nutter said, noting that the city has had to make big cuts but has maintained core services. He has not been able to do all the things he originally planned to do, most notably hire hundreds of police officers.
In the May primary, some unions and other groups frustrated with Nutter turned out for his enigmatic opponent, T. Milton Street, who was released from federal prison last year after serving 26 months for failing to pay income taxes. Street, a former hot dog vendor and state legislator, is also the brother of Nutter’s predecessor and longtime rival, John F. Street.
“The message is that there’s a lot of pain in this city as caused by the recession,” Nutter said. “What I take from all that is I have more work to do.”
Even if some remain frustrated with Nutter, he remains a virtual shoo-in against the practically unknown Brown, said Randall Miller, a political scientist at St. Joseph’s University. As the party-endorsed candidate in the two-way May primary, Brown barely fended off a challenge by real estate agent John Featherman, who lost by fewer than 70 votes.
“Nobody’s paying attention because they don’t take her seriously,” Miller said. “They don’t take the Republican Party seriously.”
A third candidate, 34-year-old activist Wali “Diop” Rahman, is also on the ballot as an independent. He advocates spending less on law enforcement and more on education and community development programs.
At one point, the election had promised to be more dramatic when Nutter’s old rival and predecessor John Street, whose record Nutter lambasted in his 2007 campaign, said he was considering running as an independent. But Street, a two-term mayor who has sparred with Nutter since both served on City Council, ultimately decided not to run.
While few expect a real contest, Brown remains confident despite the fact that she has had to resort to circulating commercials largely on YouTube.
“It’s not going to be a sleeper,” she said. “We are truly the ‘Rocky’ story.”
No matter the outcome, it’s a good bet neither candidate will be introducing the other at the podium Wednesday morning.
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