Stu Bykofsky: Nutter weak candidate for Philly, but who is stronger?

Unlike onetime truck vendor John F. Street, who evolved from Council muck into its fire-breathing president and then mayor, Michael Nutter strikes no fear in his former colleagues. They swat his agenda like an annoying fruit fly. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

THE BLOOM HAS faded from Mayor Nutter's political rose in recent months and former supporters have become thorns - such as the previously purring news media and Good Government types. The goo-goos, who saw in Mixmaster Mike an errant knight who would slay the triple-headed dragon of inefficiency, waste and corruption, are disappointed.

Yes, Nutter was a reformer on City Council. But the goo-goos forgot that Nutter was as popular with most Councilmaniacs as the discipline dean at St. Aloysius' School for Bold and Brazen Articles.

Unlike onetime truck vendor John F. Street, who evolved from Council muck into its fire-breathing president and then mayor, Nutter strikes no fear in his former colleagues. They swat his agenda like an annoying fruit fly.

Nutter will run for re-election next year (if he wants to) and he has a decent $1 million-plus war chest, but will have trouble raising a lot more. He commands no uncrackable base - not business, not labor, not party, not blacks.

Does Nutter have anyone to fear in 2011?

  • 138 (28.7%)
  • 43 (9.0%)
  • 63 (13.1%)
  • 236 (49.2%)
  • 480

The conventional political wisdom is that Nutter's wounded - he's unpopular with soda-drinkers, homeowners, library-users, rec-center-goers, party stalwarts (he attempted reform), reformers (he didn't get much done) and even African-Americans, for not delivering enough specifically to them.

But no sitting Democratic mayor has ever been driven out of City Hall, and you can't beat somebody with nobody. The names of potential challengers are circulating, some more credible than others.

Eliminated from The List are Bill Green and Tom Knox, who publicly benched themselves.

A strong run for governor makes state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams an attractive candidate. But because Nutter endorsed him and helped his campaign, Williams told me, it would be "morally bankrupt" for him to oppose Nutter.

A name I was surprised to hear was that of former Mayor Street, now teaching at Temple University. Another term or two in Room 215 of City Hall is not how he wants to spend "the golden years," he told me.

"No comment" was what I got from Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat Sam Katz, with whom I caught up telephonically in Israel.

Next on The List is former Controller Jonathan Saidel, who got good press for declining to ask for a recount in the lieutenant-governor's race he had just lost.

"I haven't even thought about running for another office," said Saidel, who did run, briefly, for mayor in 2007 before stepping aside for Bob Brady.

Ah, Brady! I heard his name.

When Big Bob ran for mayor it was an open seat. The idea of the head of the city Democratic Party running against a Democratic incumbent is far-fetched, but I asked anyway. Brady says he's backing Nutter.

Same with a future wannabe, Controller Alan Butkovitz, who'd have to quit his job to run.

Then there's the default mayor, Edward G. Rendell.

Everyone believes that he could beat Nutter. I believe that he could have the City Charter changed to become Mayor for Life, but Fast Eddie says the only way he'd even think of running is with Nutter's endorsement. So that's that, Rendellians.

If Nutter is weak, why are potential opponents stuck on flypaper? Because challenging Nutter can go one of two ways - ugly, or very ugly.

A tiger may be hiding in the tall grass, but of those mentioned the most likely guy to go is Katz.

Would a white challenger create a racial division this city does not need?

Several knowledgeable Dems say maybe not. Many blacks are angry with Nutter for dissing Barack Obama and supporting Hillary Clinton for president, they say.

I was told that Nutter couldn't even count on the automatic support of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. Is that true? I e-mailed the question to Black Clergy leader Bishop Audrey Bronson and got no answer. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

If Nutter's popularity drops in the months ahead, a Democratic challenger (maybe even one sitting it out now) won't be able to resist grabbing for the brass ring. That person will step up, claiming to be doing it "for the good of the party."

That challenger will be running against Nutter - but also against Philadelphia's immutable history of never saying "no" to incumbent Democratic mayors.

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