Monica Yant Kinney | The first mission: To mingle freely

Crouching to kiss a weathered woman in a wheelchair, clutching the hand of a cleaned-up addict wanting work, accepting goofy gifts and unsolicited advice from sentimental strangers and neighborhood know-it-alls, Mayor Michael Nutter began another long-shot campaign yesterday.

This one is even tougher than the last. Because now that he's in charge, Nutter wants a complete change in how Philadelphia thinks, lives and operates.

Free Tastykakes were nice, but an hour into Nutter's meet-and-greet with the masses at City Hall, it was clear that hugs and handshakes mattered more.

It's one thing to state emphatically in your inaugural address that "there is nothing government does that cannot be done ethically and transparently."

It's another to invite regular folks over for cocoa and to ask them to dream your impossible dreams.

"Every candidate wants to meet you when they need your vote," noted Lance Haver, the veteran advocate-turned-director of consumer affairs for the city as he watched the lovefest.

Since when do winners try this hard?

Hopes and dreams

In the spirited line outside the experiment in political populism in a post-9/11 world, Camisha Brown and Chelcie Rojas held the hopes and dreams of Philadelphia in a three-ring binder.

The Independence Charter eighth graders were prepared to turn over the book of 680 schoolmates' soul-baring to Mayor Nutter on one condition: that he take it seriously.

Or, as Chelcie, 14, wrote: "I dream that one day I can walk around my neighborhood without being so cautious. P.S. I hope that you take this letter into consideration and don't just look at it as some kid writing you some fantasy for Philly."

That, she needn't have worried about. Upstairs in Conversation Hall - in front of a statue of no less a role model than George Washington - Nutter was making his own fantasy reality.

"We're returning government to the citizens," he told me during one break, amazed to hear that the crowd outside was too large to estimate.

Regular people, he suggested, "have never had an opportunity to be here."

Like everything about the event, the remark was both symbolic and pointed.

"Symbolism is important," City Councilman Jim Kenney says when I ask him about the lasting impact of Nutter's Capraesque first impression, how much time he buys with all this good will.

"As malaise can be infectious, so can enthusiasm," noted Kenney, a seasoned cynic open to change. "Someone told me they spent more time smiling yesterday [at the inauguration] than in the last four years."

Now, all Nutter has to do is give people a reason to keep beaming. Especially if it takes him longer to do what he's vowed to do, or if, God forbid, he happens to stumble along the way.

The best he can

On his first full day as mayor in 1992, Ed Rendell slept late, cut his first ribbon and showed reporters the mayor's private bathroom.

John Street sat down at the antique desk in his new office at 5 a.m. He spent the day meeting with job-seekers and holding a news conference about the struggling school district.

Every new administration launches as a reaction to the last. Nutter's decision to mingle is also part of his message.

"Government cannot mandate that we act nice, that we're good citizens, good parents," he said in the rousing inaugural address that even eighth graders Camisha and Chelcie were quoting a day later.

"The government cannot solve every person's problem every day of the week," Nutter reminded. "But our government can lead by example."

An hour before the job-warming party, the new mayor arrived at City Hall at the same time Donna DiGiacomo was walking by on an errand.

"You'll do a better job, Mr. Nutter," the Germantown writer shouted as he walked inside, intentionally ambiguous about to whom she was referring.

Nutter paused and yelled back, "I'll do the best I can."

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at or 215-854-4670.

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