Soon, Nutter must expand core advisers

Some in his inner circle may not want a role if he becomes mayor. He is upbeat on drawing talent.

Posted: July 09, 2007

Say a crisis arises in the political world of Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter. Who gets summoned to the war room to counsel him about what to do?

First of all, there might not be a war room. Those close to Nutter say he does a lot of his consultation one-on-one via cell phone.

And the roster of those consulted depends on the subject.

"There's a room, there's a phone, there's a something," Nutter said. "I can make decisions. But I'm not the kind of person who's going to sit by myself, think it all out, and not have some engagement and back-and-forth with different viewpoints.

"I like competing viewpoints as part of the decision-making process because I want to think through what's right, what's wrong, what's good, what's bad, what are the benefits, and what are the risk factors."

Six months before he takes office, should he defeat Republican Al Taubenberger in November, Nutter is getting a lot of advice from a lot of people.

"Since he does a lot of his talking one-on-one, the full breadth of his advisers probably isn't clear to anyone but Michael," said Susan L. Burke, his campaign attorney.

At the moment, the inner circle is an intimate group populated most notably by lawyer and lobbyist Dick Hayden and economic consultant Terry Gillen.

The group's tightness is no surprise to those who know Nutter. In his 14 years on City Council, he didn't need a wide range of people to think for him, inform him, or represent him to others. For the most part, he took care of all that himself.

Some aides say he tends to micromanage, and there's universal acknowledgment in Camp Nutter that the circle needs to expand in the months ahead.

"There's no question that he'll have to delegate more if he becomes mayor and have to bring in lots more people," Gillen said. "I don't think that's going to be difficult for him."

Nutter's situation is complicated by the fact that several of his most trusted advisers may not want to go into government with him. Even so, he is confident he can attract talented people to his administration, including, perhaps, innovators from other cities.

"He has a wide-open universe of people to draw on," Hayden said. "In a lot of respects, it is a blank slate. He can start fresh."

Said Councilman Jim Kenney: "Michael is very smart, and I think he understands he'll have to shift slightly his approach to his job. This is a people business, and he's going to need some people around him who have people skills."

Some things won't change. A lot of the time, the candidate will consult his wife, Lisa, who runs the nonprofit Philadelphia Academies, and longtime friend Robert Bynum, owner of several local restaurants.

Beyond those two, these are the key members of the current Nutter team:

Perhaps the candidate's most trusted adviser, a political alter ego of sorts, is Hayden, a partner at Saul Ewing, a Center City law firm, and a former state representative.

Hayden and Nutter became friends in the 1980s when they were young progressives trying to buck the Democratic Party organization and win office in the same part of the city. Said Hayden: "We were not the wait-your-turn kind of guys."

Later, Nutter followed Hayden's lead and became an early supporter of Bill Clinton's. After Hayden left the legislature, the two men remained close.

Hayden has never had a title in Nutter's mayoral campaign, and he's not likely to give up his successful, Harrisburg-focused lobbying practice to work in City Hall.

Ranking with Hayden, and more involved in the campaign day-to-day, is Gillen, a Democratic ward leader who worked as deputy commerce director under Mayor Ed Rendell and as vice president for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.

Gillen, who recently went on the campaign payroll as political director, has known Nutter for more than 20 years, has run for office on her own, and might want a top job in City Hall.

"I felt the city was drifting," Gillen said, "and that Michael's candidacy was an opportunity to bring it a really new style of leadership."

Relatively new to the inner circle as a top policy aide is Wendell Pritchett, an associate dean and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School with professional expertise in land-use and urban issues.

Pritchett also has political experience; he ran then-U.S. Rep. Thomas Foglietta's district offices in the mid-1990s. Said Pritchett of his current role: "This is my punishment for bragging that professors have the summer off."

Burke, the campaign lawyer, has known Nutter for a mere five years. She became a key player through her work on litigation surrounding the city's new campaign-finance limits.

But Burke, a partner in a small Manayunk firm, doesn't appear headed for City Hall, either. One reason is a commitment she can't abandon: She is lead counsel in a federal lawsuit against two government contractors on behalf of Iraqis tortured in the Abu Ghraib prison.

None of Nutter's aides spends more time with him than press secretary Melanie Johnson, a former press secretary for Mayor Rendell.

Nutter also speaks frequently with veteran political consultant Neil Oxman, who helped fashion the victorious strategy and commercials for the spring primary.

The candidate thinks he has the making of a core group to help him govern from the inside - and to advise him from outside - should he get elected.

"I know you've got to expand the circle, from Council to campaigning to governing," Nutter said, noting that the roles are very different.

"Time is a legislator's friend, but it's an executive's enemy. You don't always have time to study all the evidence.

"When a decision has to be made, you need to have people you trust who can give you their best judgment. And then you go with your gut."


Contact senior writer Larry Eichel at 215-854-2415 or leichel@phillynews.com.

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