Mayor-elect must hit ground running

For Michael Nutter, it's put-up time.

After nearly six months of coyly deflecting questions about his coming administration, he can no longer claim only to be a candidate.

Starting today, he is mayor-elect, and as such he must show he is up to the task of building an administration and tackling both a homicide epidemic and a difficult fiscal forecast.

"He has to be able to hit the ground running," Gov. Rendell said, recalling his own time as mayor-in-waiting.

Nutter said he would and promised to begin naming top aides within a week. Sources say he has a leading candidate for finance director: Rob Dubow, who now runs the state authority that monitors city spending.

Dubow would come in with experience as a former city budget director, a job he held through 2004, when Rendell appointed him the state's chief financial officer.

That background would be crucial; Nutter, in his first six months, will have to negotiate contracts with the city's four municipal unions and develop a five-year spending plan.

Asked about Dubow, Nutter said last night that no final personnel decisions had been made.

Another position expected to be filled quickly is a police commissioner to replace Sylvester M. Johnson.

If Nutter is to show he has a jump on his new job, it will be important for him to begin announcing such appointments long before he sworn in Jan. 7.

"The transition period is the period to begin to build a sense of momentum, to begin to set up some victories that you'll want to achieve. The announcement of key personnel can be part of that," said Comcast executive David L. Cohen, who served as Rendell's mayoral chief of staff.

To former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, the finance director is the most critical position to fill. "It's the person who is going to make sure there is enough money to run the government, and someone who can give the mayor the right advice on fiscal policy," he said.

Other key appointments will be chief of staff and managing director.

Aside from appointments, soon-to-be-named transition teams will now begin picking up on the work of policy groups - on issues like tourism, transportation and economic development - that Nutter quietly put together during the summer.

There are also some 100 boards and commissions with openings that must be filled.

Nutter is making a concerted effort to draw top-flight appointees from the private sector.

To that end, he has been bearing down on companies in the region to agree to "lend" employees - both executives and rising stars - to his administration, while keeping them on their company payrolls.

Cohen, along with Mark Schweiker, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, is helping Nutter, trying "to sensitize the business community, to generate enthusiasm to be real partners with the administration," as Cohen put it.

Also expect to see efforts to recruit young professionals to public service; while visiting city administrations in New York, Baltimore, Chicago and Washington this summer, Nutter was impressed by the number of bright, young, energetic aides and appointees.

"I've been calling on people to consider changing careers," Nutter said in a pre-election interview.

Nutter was expected to make his first public speech as mayor-elect this morning, at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, a Kennedyesque plea for "public service and community commitment."

"I've been clear about what I want to do," Nutter said. "What I want to hear back from the public, from John or Jane, is what do YOU plan to do?"

It is easy to understand why he might be eager to lure the best and the brightest to his administration.

He inherits a city in which nearly one of every two students drops out out of high school. Fewer than one in five residents has a four-year college degree. And one in four residents lives in poverty.

With that in mind, Nutter must find people "willing to put aside their personal lives for the next 18 to 24 months to help move Philadelphia in a positive direction," according to Rendell.

So far, Rendell said, "Michael has some talented people in the circle around him, but he has to expand that circle dramatically." Among his closest advisers are lawyer Richard Hayden, a former state representative; and economic consultant Terry Gillen, a ward leader.

Others on his team are former Lower Merion Commissioner Joe Manko; Leslie Ann Miller, a former counsel to Rendell; Chestnut Hill banker Jay Goldstein; Stradley Ronon lobbyist John Saler; businessman Michael Pearson; and developer Daniel Neducsin.

Expectations for Nutter and his team can hardly seem any greater, given voters' weariness with the Street administration and the steadily climbing homicide rate.

That is especially so as Nutter's first day as mayor-elect coincides with the funeral of slain police Officer Chuck Cassidy.

"The only reason for me to run was to create change and shake this place up," Nutter said. He plans on "telling people the truth: that some things are going to take awhile."

Some things, yes, but not the building blocks of a government.

"There would be a huge deflation if we discover that during this long transition, if it came out that there hasn't been a vetting of names, and some kind of outreach," St. Joseph's University history professor Randall Miller said. "There has been a long enough period to plan not only what you want to do, but who you want to do it."

So the clock is running. No one knows that better than Nutter.

For four years, he has had a small desk clock keeping a countdown, to the second, of how much time was left before Street's last day as mayor - a day that will now be Nutter's first.

On Monday, he held the clock up for a reporter: There were 62 days, 13 hours, 22 minutes, and 22 seconds left.

Two more days have slipped away.


Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.