Democrat Michael Nutter was elected mayor of Philadelphia yesterday, capping an improbable 16-month run for the former city councilman who rode a message of reform to victory in the primary, then cruised through the general election.
As expected, Nutter's triumph over Republican challenger Al Taubenberger was overwhelming. With nearly all districts reporting, Nutter led by better than a 4-1 ratio, the largest since 1931. Nutter soundly beat Taubenberger in every area of the city, including the Republican's own Northeast Philadelphia ward.
Voter turnout, however, was dismal. About three in 10 registered voters cast ballots, the lowest turnout for a Philadelphia mayoral election in more than a century. Remarkably, that was a better showing than many analysts had predicted.
No matter: There were more than enough votes to put Nutter in City Hall as mayor beginning Jan. 7.
Taking the stage at a ballroom in the Radisson Plaza-Warwick Hotel in Center City shortly after 10 last night, Nutter, 50, began his remarks by calling for a moment of silence for Police Officer Chuck Cassidy, shot to death last week, and the rest of the city's homicide victims.
He paused for a long while, then proclaimed: "It's a new day. It's a new day. It's a new day. It's a new day."
At his side were his daughter, Olivia; his son, Christian; and his wife, Lisa.
Calling himself a "proud son of Philadelphia," Nutter repeatedly used words like strength, faith, hope and together.
"Together we can lower the crime rate in this great city. We can create jobs and have economic opportunity for everybody, not just a select few," he said. "Together we can clean up City Hall, and together we can clean our neighborhoods."
Near the end of his 15-minute speech, Nutter said: "I'm ready to lead with you by my side. . . . Will you stand next to me? Will you lead with me?"
Nutter also thanked Taubenberger for running a "good, clean, solid campaign."
Before making his acceptance speech, Nutter fielded congratulatory calls from Taubenberger and Gov. Rendell, but he missed former President Bill Clinton, who was forced to leave a message on Nutter's voice mail.
Hundreds of Nutter's jubilant supporters cheered his every word in the jammed ballroom, and later danced to the sounds of a nine-piece funk band.
Taubenberger's postelection party was a different scene altogether. About 150 Republicans grazed on a buffet featuring sausage and sauerkraut at the Knowlton Mansion in the Northeast, listening to recorded music and trying to get a signal on a television set with rabbit-ear antennas. There was nary a balloon or campaign sign on the scene.
Taubenberger, 53, pledged to help Nutter, but he warned that the mayor-elect had a difficult job ahead of him.
"Twenty-five percent of the budget is going to go to health care. We need increased police protection. We need better schools. And there's difficulty all around. The fact of the matter is we need more jobs," Taubenberger said.
Nutter's victory was the final act in a quirky contest with an outcome that was never in doubt.
Nutter raised $2.9 million for his campaign; Taubenberger barely cracked $20,000. Late in the contest, the Republican candidate took to calling himself the "super-underdog," while Nutter began to behave more like a mayor-elect than a candidate.
Freed from the pressure of a competitive race, the candidates ran a genteel, issues-focused campaign, featuring dozens of joint appearances and few disagreements.
That was far cry from the five-man primary campaign in which Nutter was long viewed as a afterthought to the two presumed front-runners - Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, two of Philadelphia's congressmen.
During the primary, Nutter ran less against his opponents then he did against Mayor Street, sharply criticizing the mayor's record on job creation, ethics, and crime.
It was a tactic that caught fire with voters who were hungry for change, and Nutter's four-term record as a reformer on City Council gave him the credibility to run as the candidate who could change the political culture of City Hall.
Nutter spent the summer reaching out to his defeated foes, and by most accounts the Democratic Party stands united behind him now.
Given his margin of victory, it seems most of Philadelphia does as well.
Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra at 215-854-2827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Joseph Gambardello contributed to this article.