Mayor Nutter’s week from hell

Mayor Michael Nutter speaks during a news conference in the aftermath of a building collapse on Thursday, June 6 in Philadelphia. The building under demolition collapsed onto a neighboring thrift store, killing six people and injuring 14, including one who was pulled from the debris nearly 13 hours later. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Ever have one of those weeks when nothing seems to go your way? You know, when problems pile up faster than solutions, you’re past deadline on projects, and you’re feeling abandoned by friends and colleagues who should be there to help?

If you’re in that situation right now, look at the bright side. You’re still having a better week than Mayor Michael Nutter.

On Monday, Nutter appeared on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes to talk about the future of Philadelphia’s public schools, a subject which has garnered national attention. The sheer scope of the crisis and the idea of dismantling the public school system in the fifth largest city in America had Hayes foaming at the mouth.

He tried, really tried, to toss Nutter a couple of softballs, placing the original burden for the disaster on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who slashed the budget for education soon after taking office. Hayes even managed to tie the school budget crunch to the fact that there seems to be plenty of money to build a new $400 million prison just outside the city. It was a perfect setup. Just about any politician in Nutter’s position would have taken a mighty swing, going for the fences.

Given the golden opportunity to slap the governor around on national television would have been a no-brainer for any Democrat — but Nutter refused to take the bait. Oh, he acknowledged that budget cuts were the genesis of the trouble, but didn’t throw Corbett under the bus. I surmised that might have been because Nutter was headed to Harrisburg the very next day to arm twist the state legislature into helping out, and didn’t want to offend the GOP majority, burning that bridge before he even crossed it.

“My job is to make sure we have a system of great schools all across the city of Philadelphia, that they are properly funded regardless of who manages them,” Nutter droned, sounding as robotic as an automated answering machine.

Worse, he then went on to defend, yes defend, the school closings by saying the district is smaller, and there were too many half-filled schools. He used the standard educational reform buzzwords like “right sizing” the district, and the need to generate “quality seats” in city schools.

That could have been considered a sound political strategy by some, but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Philly liberals, and indeed progressives all over the country, jumped down Nutter’s throat on blogs and talk radio.

Even giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt, some of that criticism is richly deserved. He could have called a spade a spade, and talked about the devastating effect the cuts will have on the lives of everyone involved. He could have talked about the students who will walk long distances through unfamiliar neighborhoods, braving traffic, gangbangers and the weather to attend a school not necessarily better than their old one.

He could have mentioned the loss of music, art, libraries, after school and extracurricular activities in schools across the city. He could have talked about the laid off teachers, nurses, classroom aides and administrators — essential not just for learning, but to the safety of every student in the district.

Instead, he woodenly touted a party line that sounded suspiciously like capitulation; as though it were time to give up and make the best of what we were given. Progressives and pundits howled, and in the end, there’s still only a snowball’s chance in hell of getting one more dime out of the GOP-dominated legislature. It was not Michael Nutter’s finest hour.

Then it got worse.

As the eyes of a national audience again turned to our region, with one of professional golf’s greatest tournaments, the U.S. Open, taking place at local Merion, those same eyes trained upward on Wednesday to see one of those banner planes flying overhead. You recognize them from their usual summer flyovers at the shore, selling everything from suntan oil to radio stations.

This banner was different. It said, in big block letters, “6 DIED & NO CHANGE — RESIGN NOW NUTTER!”

That had to hurt.

Obviously referring to the tragic collapse last week of a Center City building undergoing demolition which killed six people and injured more than a dozen, the banner was timed and designed for the greatest impact, and maximum embarrassment for the mayor.

The city’s firefighters still want his head. City unions still want his head. And now, someone he can’t even identify wants his head.

No matter how badly it’s been going for you lately, you probably still had a better week than the mayor did.

 

Daryl Gale is the city editor for The Philadelphia Tribune.

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