Friday, July 11, 2014
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Day of intrigue ends, what it means for Nutter

What does City Council’s rejection of Mayor Nutter’s sweetened-beverage tax proposal mean for the mayor?

Day of intrigue ends, what it means for Nutter

What does City Council’s rejection of Mayor Nutter’s sweetened-beverage tax proposal mean for the mayor?

For starters, expect Nutter’s aides and supporters to couch this not as a defeat for the mayor, but as a referendum on a Council they will portray as caving to the might of the beverage industry lobby and embracing a path toward fiscal irresponsibility.

Council members, of course, will take a different view, with many citing the downfall of the so-called soda tax as yet more evidence of the mayor’s inability to shepherd his major proposals and policy ideas through Council.

Be sure, too, that the politically-minded will seize upon Nutter’s failed soda tax – two years in a row now – as an open invitation for a challenger such as millionaire Tom Knox, said to be toying an independent run, or Councilman Bill Green, being encouraged to possibly run as the Republican nominee, and to build a case that the mayor is not a shoo-in for reelection come November.

Whatever the case, Council did deliver $53 million for the cash-starved school district.

But make no mistake that Nutter went to the mat on this one, and lost.

He made a direct appeal to residents and voters during a rare, live broadcast Wednesday night, begging Council members to do “something.” He didn’t at that time hammer home that his preferred course was the 2-cents-an-ounce soda tax, but the mayor made no secret of that in the days and weeks beforehand.

Come Thursday, the mayor left most of the visible lobbying to his staff. In addition to his government relations team, Managing Director Rich Negrin spent most of the day in chambers or right outside in the hallway. Deputy mayors and some commissioners testified about the perils of moving money out of an account the city uses for surplus or emergency dollars, saying doing so would necessitate cuts in police classes, prison spending, and on pools and recreation centers.

In early afternoon, a breakthrough emerged in the fight over which tax to embrace, with knowing Nutter staffers sporting sudden smiles as news spread that they had secured a majority of Council members – at least 9 of 17 – to back a version of the soda tax. One such version under consideration included a 1-cent-an-ounce levy that would sunset after two years.

Alas, the deal was not to be. Beverage-industry lobbyists stood outside Council President Anna C. Verna’s office, where several Council members had convened. They paced the hallways. They cornered Council members.

Word began spreading: There were nine votes, but for a 3.5 percent property tax increase and not a tax on sugary drinks.

Shortly after, just before 4 p.m., the mayor walked up to the 4th floor where Council was meeting, but stopped short of the chambers and went inside his old Council office, now occupied by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

From there, he began meeting one-on-one with Council members, determined to get back the nine votes he had earlier.

He made one brief appearance, telling reporters, “I don’t necessarily know there are nine votes for anything.”

Not long after, shortly after 5 p.m, the mayor left Jones’s office and went to Verna’s.

Not long after that, Verna announced Council would recess. It did not reconvene until about 8:30 p.m.

And there were no nine votes for a soda tax. 

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's Troy Graham and Bob Warner and Claudia Vargas take you inside Philadelphia's City Hall.

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