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Nutter Takes Home the Mayoral Bid, and Thus Begins the Speculation

May 24, 2007 By:
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Michael Nutter

The roller-coaster ride of the Philadelphia Democratic mayoral primary is over, resulting in what many experts pegged as a highly improbable victory for former City Councilman Michael Nutter.

Now Nutter's supporters, as well as many backers of the four candidates he defeated, are expressing hope that the self-styled reformer can bring fundamental change to City Hall, improve the downtown business climate and scale back gun violence in certain neighborhoods.

It's a tall order for anyone, and Nutter hasn't even been elected yet. He still has to face Republican Al Taubenberger in the November general election, though city Democrats hold a 5-to-1 advantage in voter affiliation.

"I believe [that Nutter's victory] is going to be the start of some great things happening in Philadelphia," said 43-year-old Ken Weinstein, who sat on Nutter's finance committee.

Weinstein -- who has known Nutter for 20 years -- said that the fact that the candidate received broad support from both white and black voters signifies that he's a unifying force whose door will be open to diverse constituencies, including the Jewish community.

"In my lifetime, it's the first time I remember that one candidate has been able to be elected by both white and black voters. Hopefully, it's the beginning of the end of racial politics in this city," said Weinstein.

According to unofficial results, Nutter, with nearly 105,000 ballots cast for him, captured some 36 percent of the vote, literally sprinting past businessman Tom Knox, who garnered 25 percent.

An unknown at the campaign's start, Knox spent roughly $10 million on advertising, also casting himself as a reformer and finding himself the front-runner for much of the race.

Yet, once in the lead, he was attacked by opponents, as well as the press, for magnifying his role in Mayor Ed Rendell's administration, as well as for some of his business practices. He was also criticized for trying to buy City Hall with his wealth.

But the man had -- and still has -- many supporters.

"Knox raised the level of the whole campaign; he elevated the dialogue," said Mark Schneider, 47, who said that, ultimately, he thinks Nutter will bring Knox's reform agenda to City Hall.

"There has to be goals and measurement and accountability," he continued. "I think Tom Knox would have done those things, and I think Mike Nutter will also."

Listening to the Citizens
Ken Smuckler, a political consultant who worked on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-District 1) before leaving to volunteer for a 527 organization that produced an attack ad against Knox, said the jury on Nutter is still out. Smuckler said that like current Mayor John F. Street, Nutter would be entering City Hall without executive experience.

"The one thing you do know is that he's going to push a reform agenda," said Smuckler. "There will be further moves on no-bid contracts, and you are going to see more attention paid to campaign finance and disclosure requirements."

He credited Brady, who finished third in the polls, and his willingness to attack Knox's business record with opening the door for a Nutter victory. Smuckler added that if Brady had entered the race with more money in his campaign war chest, he might have been able to mount a more formidable bid, and possibly capture the nomination.

In the end, most pundits hailed the campaign as an issue-driven race with few attacks based on any particular candidate's religious and ethnic background. They did occur, though, particularly on the last Sunday before the primary, when flyers were distributed at Catholic churches in several neighborhoods, claiming that Nutter had left Catholicism and become a Baptist for political reasons, and that Brady had greatly exaggerated the extent of his church attendance.

The same flyer claimed that Knox was the only practicing Catholic in the race.

Knox denied having anything to do with the flyers and distanced himself from the message, but Nutter offered a harsh public rebuke nonetheless.

"It had its moments, but it wasn't four months of mudslinging," said Harris Sokoloff, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who directs "Great Expectations: Citizen Voices on Philadelphia's Future," a joint project of The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board and Penn's Project on Civic Engagement.

Said Sokoloff: "I think the candidates heard the citizens say, 'We want you to address what's important to us.' The citizen voice has been magnified."

 

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