PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Michael Nutter describes the job of Mayor of Philadelphia as a “roller coaster,” with dizzying highs, such as the visit of Pope Francis, and crushing lows, such as the fatal shooting of police Sergeant Stephen Liczbisnki, two events that frame his eight-year tenure.
But his legacy is built on his day-to-day running of city government and as he prepares to turn the reins over the Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, Monday, he appears satisfied that he has accomplished his core goals, while conceding there is much left to do.
“It’s been an incredible eight years,” Nutter said. “I think we made a lot of progress. We’ve made the city a safe, smarter, more sustainable place.”
In a final interview with KYW Newsradio, the mayor recalled some of the highlights of his two terms, after his surprising but decisive, come-from-behind victory in the 2007 Democratic primary.
“The inauguration, January 7, 2008. New ideas, great budget.”
Then the first low, in May, the death of Sgt. Liczbisnki. And, roller-coaster-like, five months later, the thrill of the Phillies World Series win.
All the while, unbeknownst to him, and most of the world at that point, the bottom was falling out of the U.S. economy. The realization crept in as he received revenue numbers through the fall. A billion dollar hole opened in the budget. Those new ideas gave way to punishing cuts and a protracted contract fight with city unions.
“You fast forward to today,” he said with pride, “all budgets balanced, the city has an A rating from all three credit agencies, wage tax and business tax reductions have restarted, the wage tax is at its lowest level in 30 years. There are more Philadelphians working than at any time in the last 25 years.”
Integrity in government was another major theme of the Nutter Administration. He created the job of Chief Integrity Officer, which Mayor-elect Kenney is keeping.
Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Policy Director Joe Grace gives Nutter credit for navigating through the recession and promoting the city nationally, which has helped the economy, particularly the hospitality sector.
“The way the mayor sold the city around the county, that has contributed to the vibrancy that you see,” Grace said, “particularly in an expanding downtown.”
Nutter also earned a national reputation for himself, becoming president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gushed about Nutter’s mentoring during a recent visit to a meeting of “My Brothers Keeper,” an initiative of President Obama to assist young people of color that Nutter embraced.
But he still has plenty of critics at home, particularly among social justice advocates.
“He has not been an advocate for the poor,” said Rev. Brian Jenkins, who went toe-to-toe with the city when Nutter issued a ban on feeding homeless people outdoors. A federal judge stopped the order from taking effect but Nutter never rescinded the order.
Members of Black Lives Matter and similar groups criticize his endorsement of a stop-and-frisk policy that disproportionately targets young black men.
Even Grace notes that Nutter, like previous mayors, has had a hard time pushing the success of an expanding downtown into neighborhoods where deep poverty– still at the highest rate among the ten largest U.S. cities– is concentrated.
And though Nutter counts a hard-fought package of tax increases to provide city schools with reliable, recurring funding as one of his major victories, the public school system is, by almost any measure, worse off than it was eight years ago.
Mayor Nutter concedes there is work left to do.
“Part of the challenge of city government is that some of the work is never done,” he said. “You make progress and it really is like a relay race, you hand off the baton. I truly have tried to live by the Athenian oath. The last line talks about turning the city over ‘better and more beautiful than when we found’ it and I think we’ve done that.”
What’s next for him? He’s agreed to serve on the host committee for the Democratic National Convention in July. And after that, he anticipates working on the campaign for the presidential nominee. And after that, he’s not sure, though he says he has a lot of offers.
He will, he says, miss being mayor.
“It is, in fact, the best job in America.”
Listen to the full interview in this CBS Philly podcast (trt: 21:16)…