Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has long said he’s wanted to visit Israel in an official capacity. It looks as though it could happen before the end of the year.
“There is discussion going on about a trip to Israel and possibly another country” this fall, Nutter told more than 100 people who attended the Aug. 14 Jewish Business Network’s monthly lunch program in Center City.
Nutter, who just wrapped up a year as president of the American Conference of Mayors, spent an hour discussing a wide range of topics, including the issue that has taken up much of his time the past few days, weeks and months — the funding crisis facing the Philadelphia School District.
The mayor was reelected to a second term in 2011 and has a little less than two and a half years until he’ll be forced to leave office due to term limits.
He mentioned his plans to visit Israel during his brief opening remarks and then was asked about it by an audience member at the end of the much longer question and answer period.
“The one I’m not talking about,” Nutter replied, laughing.
He said that Philadelphia has seven official sister cities and no mayor had previously visited any of them while in office. In December, Nutter traveled to Tianjin, China and earlier this year was in Florence. Tel Aviv was the first foreign destination to be named a sister city to Philadelphia. That happened in 1966.
“We have a significant number of relationships between the city of Philadelphia and Tel Aviv and obviously between the United States and the state of Israel,” Nutter said. “I’ve been a strong supporter, in a local capacity, for Israel and its security.”
The primary goal of the trip, he said, would be to drum up business and economic opportunities for Philadelphia.
“I think there is serious business to be done and that will be part of a larger business attraction strategy,” he said. “I would expect that we will take a few people with us, at their expense, on this particular mission.”
He started off the talk citing what he considers one of his biggest accomplishments: A 40 percent drop in the homicide rate since taking office in 2008. He also pointed out that there is a chance Philadelphia could record the lowest numbers of homicides since 1968.
The school district’s funding crisis took up the bulk of the discussion.
Speaking to Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, who runs the Jewish Business Network, he said, “It is my only hope, Rabbi, that if I can ask for extra prayers, blessings, I would greatly appreciate it. I really need it.”
Last week William Hite, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, said that schools wouldn’t open on time unless the city could come up with an additional $50 million in funding. Calling it a dire situation, Nutter told the audience he supports Hite’s decision because it would be unsafe to open a building without proper staffing.
“Schools will have a principal, one secretary, teachers and students: that is not school and not safe,” he said.
Right now, Nutter has been locked in a dispute with City Council President Darrell Clarke on how to come up with the funding. Nutter wants to go along with the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s idea for the city to extend its additional one percent sales tax and hand over the funding to the district. Clarke has called that scenerio a bad fiscal deal for the city.
Nutter said that “in the world I live in, you don’t always do what you want to do, you do what you have to do.”