Fatimah Ali: The city's fiscal mess: We're all in it together

WHO COULD have imagined while he was running his long-shot battle for mayor in the spring that Michael Nutter would eventually have to unleash such devastating economic news on the city?

I believed his promise that Philadelphia would see a new day, although I must've missed exactly what kind of new day he meant. Looking back, I realize that I was too naïve.

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Mayor: On the spot.

A lot of folks are busy finger-pointing at the mayor now because of the tough decisions he's made to shut some city services.

Like many, I'm really perturbed by this bleak economy and find daily survival difficult. But as challenging as it is to get on top of my own checkbook, I'm happy not to be wearing Mayor Nutter's shoes, and carrying the city's financial burden on my back.

Being mad at the mayor won't make anything better for anyone. Even though I'm still wondering exactly what he knew and when he knew it before telling us, I'm grateful to get all of this bad news while I'm still in the mood to count my blessings.

In hard times, people need to come together and help each other to ease the pain. Although I'm an optimist at heart, I do see more trouble brewing, unless every one of us contributes in some positive way.

I know it's a fantasy, but a little more personal responsibility would help.

Crooks could use some restraint and cut down on the city's criminal-justice burden. People who litter could up their standards and not drop their trash on the streets. Safe and clean streets attract more city dwellers and can help regain the tax base that's eroded over recent decades. Maybe we can even attract some big corporations to set down roots here and create more jobs.

My personal list is long and includes having better insight and being more circumspect about our political leadership. Perhaps, we just didn't pay enough attention to Mayor Nutter's signals, or read enough between the lines at the beginning of his tenure.

The fact that he cut funding to the social programs of Safe and Sound early on was maybe one indication that more doom and gloom would follow.

When children aren't protected from budget-slashing, then nothing is sacred. The academic and cultural programs in Philadelphia's libraries are amazing, and many of them shelter latchkey children who'd otherwise be home alone. The city must really be desperate for the administration to shut down these institutions. We'll all be more vulnerable because many of those children won't have anything to do after school.

Having so many young people unsupervised is a recipe for disaster because it leaves the door open for them to find trouble and crime to increase. I'm wondering what plans parents will be able to make when their children are displaced from the libraries or the city pools that will remain closed this summer.

Now is the time for stay-at-home moms, friends and relatives to open their doors to young people who may be out in the cold after school until their parents get home from work.

I know firsthand how valuable Free Libraries are to neighborhoods, after watching my mom, Mary Hughes, toil for two decades as a children's librarian.

Before she retired five years ago, she served thousands of children who might otherwise have had no place else to go.

As hard as these cuts are for all of us to swallow, my immediate concern is that with the impending closing of 11 library branches, some of these kids will fall through the cracks. The library system has had its own growing crisis for years because so many families depend on them for after-school programs.

But the last thing we need is for more young people to become idle. To sacrifice them is shameful, and it could come back to haunt us in so many ways.

The national economy isn't the mayor's fault, and he gets credit for traveling to D.C. to present the city's case.

As lean and mean as the mayor might seem, we have to give him a chance to fix what took years to break.

If you're thinking what the political whispering is saying, that Nutter will be a one-term mayor if he can't fix this mess, that won't work either.

Philadelphia needs us all to stick around and do our part to ease these woes. And if we get our heads screwed on right, perhaps it won't seem so bleak.

While cutbacks like these often prompt folks to scurry across the bridge to Jersey or the suburbs, that won't help solve anything for Philadelphia.

There's too much potential here for us to just run away. *

Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor. E-mail her at fameworksmedia@yahoo.com.