Budget fight may have weakened Nutter

Mayor Nutter may have been politically weakened

Councilman Jim Kenney, one of a just a handful of Council members who sided with the mayor in the budget debate, said Nutter had been damaged politically by recent events. And though Kenney faults fellow Council members more than the mayor, he said the relationship between the two branches of government was badly strained.

"I don't think he's weakened beyond repair. But I think he's had to take a couple steps back, and he'll need to figure out a new way to deal with stuff in the future," Kenney said.

Another city official described Nutter's negotiating style during the budget talks as "rigidity followed by total collapse."

"This is not how it's done," said the official, who is not a frequent critic of the mayor and who requested anonymity because of the need to work with Nutter.

The mayor continues to get high marks from political observers for the work he has done mending Philadelphia's image in Harrisburg and in the suburbs. They also praise his civic cheerleading and the relentless pace of his public appearances, which they say has given Philadelphians a clear sense that someone is in charge.

It is the workings of City Hall - the horse-trading and relationship-building so central to Philadelphia politics - that Nutter is struggling to get right, those interviewed said.

For instance, political consultant Larry Ceisler contends that Nutter has developed "an unfortunate habit of going nuclear," provoking major political confrontations without thinking through the potential consequences.

"He went nuclear with the libraries, he did it again when he asked the BRT members to resign, and he did it with Council in talking about DROP and cars," Ceisler said, referring to Nutter's request on the eve of his March budget address that Council members turn in their city-issued vehicles and adopt a bill that would ban elected officials from participating in the city's controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan.

Former Managing Director Phil Goldsmith said it was a case of confusing "campaigning versus governing."

"It was just the wrong time to do it," Goldsmith said. "It's like going to your father for allowance and telling him he has bad breath."

Nutter said he was not motivated by political concerns when he went after the BRT or asked Council to surrender its perks.

"Everything we do is not about politics. Sometimes it's about just what's right," he said.