Mayor Nutter on Tuesday defeated T. Milton Street Sr., the brother of his political nemesis and predecessor, making it all but certain that he would serve another four years as Philadelphia's mayor.
In unofficial returns with 96 percent of the precincts reporting, Nutter captured 76 percent of the vote to Street's 24 percent.
Nutter addressed supporters at a victory gathering at the Radisson Plaza-Warwick Hotel in Center City, standing inside the same ballroom where he celebrated his first win as a reformist candidate in 2007.
"I am proud of what we have done, but we have much more to do. . . . It is time for us to take on big problems and turn them into big opportunities," he said.
Those opportunities begin with making Philadelphia "the education city," he said, adding that would be his No. 1 goal in his new term. "I plan to devote the bulk of my time and effort to making sure [the city's children] get the resources they need."
He also said, "I want to lead the new Philadelphia," and the city must "soon be on the top-10 safest list."
In the Republican mayoral primary, challenger John Featherman was tied with the endorsed candidate, Karen Brown, a former Democrat.
In a late-night posting on Facebook, Featherman wrote: "Too close to call. I was down 16% points (58/42), and I was ready to toss in the towel. My wife lectured me, and told me to be patient. Around 10:30, I went ahead, but now, I'm down 59 votes. Looks like an automatic recount. Win or lose, I broke the political machinery."
While Nutter will face one of them in November, Philadelphia's 6-1 Democratic registration edge virtually assures him of reelection.
Nutter, who took the stage with his wife, Lisa, by his side, dismissed the notion that the 24 percent vote that Street captured had any meaning beyond signifying tough economic times.
"This is a business in which you either win or you lose," Nutter said.
Street gathered with supporters at AFSCME District Council 33 headquarters on Walnut Street. "It feels great," Street told a small gathering. "We made an impact. Philadelphia elections will never be the same."
Street vowed, "We're not going away."
The campaign was far different than Nutter's first, drawing little attention as reflected in the low turnout of voters. Nutter and Street did not appear together at any candidate forums, and there were no campaign debates.
By contrast, Nutter's late surge to victory in 2007 followed what seemed to be a record number of forums and debates among the five major Democrats running, with Nutter emerging as the candidate most able to foster change.
Well before election day, Nutter was aware of the lack of voter enthusiasm in general. He noted that the city's unemployment rate was 5.6 percent when he took office, peaked at 11.9 percent last summer, and is 10.2 percent now.
"People are angry about a lot of stuff," he said. "And when it comes to elections, they are going to do something" - and he said that had affected executive officeholders like himself.
In 2009, Seattle's mayor lost his primary bid for a third term, and New York City's mayor won his third-term election by a margin of less than 5 percent. In 2010, Washington's mayor lost his primary race, and two months ago, the mayor of Kansas City finished third in his primary.
Willie Lundy, a poll inspector at Seventh and Norris Streets, blamed low voter turnout on apathy.
"Nutter? People don't care about Nutter," he said. "People are worried about their jobs. People are worried about their bills, their family, and their children. That has been the feeling throughout the city. Nobody is enthusiastic about this election."
Nutter nonetheless garnered support.
Voter Zakia Robins wasn't sure who her Council candidate was but was clear on her vote for Nutter.
"You have to give people time to fix mistakes," Robins said. "Everyone can say how someone else would be better, but. . .." Robins paused, then sighed. "Give him four more years."
Heather Diocson, 39, a committee person from Street's own 62d Ward, said she voted for Street because she disliked Nutter.
"He can find money to do other things, why not the things that taxpayers like me care about?"
While Nutter ran radio ads and campaigned more heavily in the closing days, he did not air any television commercials. Partly because of that, he still has nearly $1.3 million in the bank - a small but important sum of money that would become vital if former mayor and newly registered independent John F. Street, or anyone else, decided to launch a last-minute challenge to Nutter in the November general election.
With several potential candidates, including City Councilman Bill Green and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, not running, Nutter looked to be the city's third straight mayor with an uncontested reelection campaign.
That changed in February when Street, an ex-convict who owes the city nearly $400,000 in taxes, announced he was running to give a voice to those who are ex-offenders or impoverished. Soon after, Nutter mounted an effort to knock Street from the ballot by challenging his nominating petition.
Nutter would begin a second term with a higher national profile as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The organization promotes the needs of cities, just as President Obama is expected to be seeking reelection.
At the same time, Nutter's second term would include many of the same problems he faced in his first: finding a long-term fix to the city's costly pension system, settling contracts with two municipal unions that represent more than half the city's workforce, and changing the corporate tax structure.
And at least one continuing challenge has worsened - the pool of available public education dollars has shrunk.
Nutter declined an interview before the primary election about his second-term goals. But in an interview two weeks ago with The Inquirer's editorial board, he painted a vision of a vastly different four years - beginning with his own leadership.
"In some instances, it will be no more Mr. Nice Guy," he said, adding there were "times I could have been tougher."
Nutter has had an uneasy relationship with Council. But that would change with the election of many of his candidates, as it may eliminate a potential roadblock to his second-term agenda. Nutter is also working to help an ally, Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, become the new Council president in January.
On Council, one of Nutter's candidates, Marty Bednarek, lost; and another, Kenyatta Johnson, was too close to call. Three others won: Mark Squilla in the First District, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez in the Seventh, and Cindy Bass in the Eighth. Nutter backed all the incumbent at-large Democratic candidates, and all appeared headed to victory. Challenger Sherrie Cohen trailed incumbent James F. Kenney by 1,600 votes, with less than 5 percent of precincts yet to be counted.
Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writers Kia Gregory, Melissa Dribben, and Miriam Hill contributed to this article.