Monday, January 5, 2009

Philly Boo Birds Turn on Mayor and Why Obama Should Take Note

Shortly after his inauguration, thousands of Philadelphians waited in line for hours to meet their new Mayor, Micheal Nutter. Now, only a year later, Mayor Nutter is being greeted by hisses and boos virtually everywhere he speaks.


Because Philadelphia's financial woes have forced the man who had a new "vision for Philadelphia" to make very difficult and very unpopular choices.

Marcia Gelbert of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

" Mayor Nutter stood at the center of a hot and cramped room at the Kingsessing Recreation Center three weeks ago, repeatedly interrupted by hissing, booing and foot-stomping as he pleaded his case.

'This is the last thing I want to be doing,' Nutter told the crowd of his decision to close 11 city libraries, seven fire companies, and 68 swimming pools.

Few seemed to hear him.

'Shame on you, Nutter!' one woman shouted. Another called out: 'We voted you in - OK, we can vote you out!'

So much for the carefree, feel-good days of last January, when thousands of Philadelphians waited hours in a line that wrapped around City Hall to shake their new mayor's hand.

After taking office amid some of the greatest expectations for a mayor in recent memory, Michael Nutter ends his first year mired in the thankless work of managing Philadelphia's worst financial crisis in decades.

It is a crisis that has slowed and may ultimately threaten his ambitious plans for reform and renewal. And it has served as an untimely stopper to a year that brought what many would consider real successes, including:

The arrival of Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who, in a relatively short time, has brought renewed luster to the force and crime-fighting strategies that seem responsible for a sharp drop in violence.

The establishment of a nonemergency 311 call center for residents in need of city services.

A proposal to move at least one of the city's two planned casinos off the Delaware River waterfront.

Avoiding a showdown with the city's labor unions, successfully negotiating one-year contracts without any service disruptions or, notably, any rancor.

All of that, however, has been overshadowed by the stock market crash and the $1 billion gap in the city's five-year budget plan.

Nutter's response - to radically trim the city budget by, among other things, closing pools, libraries and some fire companies - has left him on the defensive.

Philadelphia has a long history of turning on its politicians and its sports heroes. The phrase, "what have you done for ME lately", could well have been coined here. Public figures from Santa Claus to Donovan McNabb and most recently, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden have been the target of the ever fickle boo birds. So, I'm sure that Michael Nutter isn't losing sleep over the less than warm reception that he is receiving these days. However, I'm equally sure that he is aware that the political price for doing the hard thing at a difficult time can very be steep.

I can make the case that everyone should have seen these economic woes coming. There were a few economists who predicted these events years ago. I can also make the case that politicians should not have promised so much and/or that the public should not have held unrealistic expectations. But I've addressed that in earlier posts. For now I'll just address the new accepted reality. The economy has changed everything and the pain may just be beginning. No one wants to hear that but anyone who doesn't acknowledge this has their head up their backside.

Philly Mayor Micheal Nutter is feeling the backdraft of an economic firestorm and I suspect that the President-elect is wearing his fire fighting suit too. And when you consider all of issues that President elect Obama will have to face, boos and hisses may seem like hugs and kisses compared to the reception that he may receive a year from his inauguration.

People are already asking the question, "Which issue Obama should tackle first?" Should it be:
  • the economy
  • the budget deficit
  • the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
  • the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • health care
  • gay and lesbian civil rights
  • alternative energy and energy independence
  • saving Social Security
  • completing the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and Houston.
Pick one, any one, and you will have picked an issue that could consume an administration for at least a year.

Obama has already alienated many of his gay/lesbian supporters over the Inaugural prayer. The Hispanic community is insisting that another Hispanic be appointed to his cabinet to replace Richardson. The $700B Wall Street bailout, that Obama supported, has already turned out to be a sham. Many in the Arab community are stating that Obama should be more vocal about the situation in Gaza. And Obama hasn't even been sworn in yet. The honeymoon was over before it began. Or maybe the campaign was the honeymoon.

The American public has a problem with long term commitments, just look at the divorce rate.
In a few corners the chant of "Yes WE Can" also already started to turn to "What Are YOU Going To Do For Me". It seems that it doesn't take long for the voting electorate to forget your predecessor's mistakes and zero in on yours.

For the record, I am still in the Mayor's corner. For now.

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