Nutter looks at strategies for governing.

Taking mayoral outlook - without presumption

Posted: June 25, 2007

BALTIMORE - By noon Friday, after little more than two hours here, Michael Nutter was deeply in love.

Not with the city or any of its residents but with an idea, a system, a way of managing government.

He was sitting in a crowded conference room on the sixth floor of City Hall, watching the performance of something called CitiStat.

CitiStat is Baltimore's system for compiling, in real-time detail, precisely what its agencies and departments are doing. And it's a way to hold managers accountable for their shortcomings.

With Mayor Sheila Dixon at his side and members of her cabinet flanking them, Nutter looked on as an analyst projected various pieces of data onto two giant screens, summoned nervous bureaucrats to the lectern, asked questions, and demanded answers.

Why, the analyst asked, are drug arrests up in the city's public housing? Why aren't trash-strewn lots being cleaned up more quickly? How come fewer Baltimoreans are receiving energy assistance?

"I liked it. You know I liked it," Nutter, Philadelphia's Democratic mayoral nominee, said after he left the room. "We will have something like that. It may take some time, but it's an incredibly powerful tool to make sure you're providing services and guaranteeing accountability."

For the former city councilman, now almost six weeks into the six-month gap between the primary and general elections, this was a day back in the world he likes best - the world of governing, a world to which, he knows, he will almost surely return as mayor come January. Democrats enjoy a 5-1 registration advantage over the GOP in Philadelphia, and Republicans haven't won a mayoral election in 60 years.

But as Nutter waits and works and plans, he's trying to be cautious, aware as he is that there are no rules about how presumptive a presumptive mayor can be without seeming overly so.

Indeed, other Philadelphia politicians who were in his position before reached wildly different conclusions as to what was appropriate.

Consider W. Wilson Goode, the Democratic mayoral nominee in 1983. In mid-June of that year, Goode appointed a 200-member search committee to recommend appointees for his administration.

At the time, Goode said no one should think he considered victory in the fall a sure thing. It was just that the period between November and January, he said, wasn't long enough to find the best people.

In 1991, Edward G. Rendell took very much the opposite approach.

He rejected virtually every opportunity, public and private, to talk about who might serve in his administration - even after the July death of Republican nominee and former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo made Rendell a near-certain winner. He didn't announce any transition apparatus until after Election Day.

(John Street didn't face the issue in 1999; he knew he had a competitive general election ahead.)

For now, Nutter's approach looks to have more in common with Rendell's than Goode's; his aides say the main focus is on defeating Republican Al Taubenberger in the fall. But the prospect of governing is never far from Nutter's mind, with the trip to Baltimore a case in point.

Much of the campaign's current work, which includes fleshing out existing position papers and crafting new ones, relates directly to the shape of a prospective Nutter administration.

"You use the summer to think about what are the major issues, the scenarios you're going to face," said Dick Hayden, a former state representative who is one of Nutter's closest advisers. "You use the summer to write the playbook."

Yes, resumes are pouring in from would-be commissioners, mayoral aides and board members. But nothing is being done with those resumes, aides say, other than to file them away for future reference.

There have been no job interviews. There are no screening committees, no confidential short lists.

"It doesn't make sense for us to be spending our time making personnel decisions, and it's not appropriate," said Terry Gillen, the campaign's political director, noting that Nutter has been nominated, not elected. "Right now, it's our intention to put those decisions off until after November. In two months, we'll see if that's still where we are."

Besides, aides say, it's pointless to ask who might be right as managing director, for instance, until Nutter decides what he wants from a managing director. Or who might be good as a deputy mayor for transportation until he decides whether he wants one.

"No, I will not be announcing a 200-member transition committee next week," Nutter said in an interview. "But I am very serious about getting prepared for the possibility of governing. I can use the time to multitask."

The candidate has plenty on his plate.

He needs to raise money to keep his campaign functioning, although he'll need less cash for the general election than he did for the primary.

He has to keep himself visible through the summer at community festivals, neighborhood meetings, antiviolence marches and the like.

He wants to continue to weigh in on major issues such as the future of the city schools and to meet with visiting Democratic political heavyweights.

And after the buzz he felt after only a few hours on the road, it's a safe bet that he'll be making more such trips, perhaps to New York, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta.

"It's important to get out of the city and talk to other government people, to business people, to see what they're doing," Nutter said on the train back to Philadelphia on Friday. "You pick up new ideas, variations of old ideas, new ways of coordinating things. For me, there's something about meeting with people, learning in a way that's personal and conversational, that makes it real . . .

"I feel more than ever that we're going to have to drastically change the culture of the government and raise citizens' expectations about what they can expect in service," he said. "Because if we can do it, those two things are going to drive each other."

Contact senior writer Larry Eichel at 215-854-2415 or

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