Punishing Michael Nutter Citizens hurt in mayor's feud with critic

Posted: February 28, 2004

Anyone who follows Philadelphia politics knows that the Street administration has put a bull's-eye on its chief critic on City Council, Michael Nutter.

An ally of Mayor Street, Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, is now the de facto leader of Council, thanks to a subtle coup against Council President Anna C. Verna.

The Street-friendly Council majority that stripped Verna of her normal powers now has kicked Nutter out as chair and vice chair of key committees.

Philadelphia politics are hardball; Nutter has opposed the mayor on many high-profile issues. Payback is ... well, it can be painful.

Nutter has done some great things on Council and some dumb things. He led the charge for bigger tax cuts than Street wanted, and called for the Tax Reform Commission that has done such useful work. He's done well as chairman of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. On the debit side, he authored some of the dubious City Charter changes that clogged the ballot and snarled polling places last fall.

But now he's on the short end of most Council votes and near the top of the mayor's enemies list. So he's going to have to take his lumps in terms of perks and power on Council. That's just how it goes.

What isn't just is this: Nutter's constituents are getting caught up in the payback.

The mayor's Neighborhood Transportation Initiative (NTI) recently proposed a reshuffling of its investment plans. It wants to cut funding from only one councilmanic district - $1 million worth. Take one guess which one. Yep, Nutter's Fourth District, which covers parts of the Northwest and West Philadelphia. His district would lose funds for demolition of rundown structures, while the budgets of several districts represented by mayoral allies would increase.

Some allies' districts clearly have more blight than the Fourth, which has many nice sections. But the Fourth also has blocks on the edge of tipping one way or the other, precisely the kind of area that, in the original theory of NTI, should receive timely, strategic investments.

Street's explanation that Nutter failed to take part in tours of his district to review NTI priorities doesn't wash. NTI is paying a consultant millions to pinpoint which properties need to be demolished. Nearly 200 of them are in just one section of the Fourth.

Move Nutter's office to a broom closet? That would be petty, but it's just politics and harms no one but the councilman.

Punish taxpaying citizens of Philadelphia and undermine an antiblight strategy just so you can poke a finger in a foe's eye?

That's wrong.

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