"A second-term mayor or a second-term governor is still trying to do as much as he can do," said Committee of Seventy President Zack Stalberg. "At some point, and it's usually in Year 6 or 7, it becomes pretty hopeless to accomplish big things. I think this loss — especially when it looked like he would win — it may speed up that date in which this sitting mayor does [lose power]."
A spokesman said that Nutter would not comment for this story.
Nutter seemed on track to get the votes to move the city to a property-tax system based on market values, known as the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), but support started to erode last week. Nutter rushed back Wednesday night from the U.S. Conference meeting in Florida to try to salvage the deal, but Council gave preliminary approval Thursday to delaying the plan for a year and to giving $40 million in additional funding to the schools, less than the $94 million that Nutter sought. The budget is up for final passage Thursday, and the administration said it hopes to see more revisions.
Nutter has had difficulty getting Council to approve his budget-revenue proposals for the past three years. The AVI proposal — which would fix a massively outdated and unfair assessment system — would mean tax breaks for some residents, but huge increases for others. Those changes worried many Council members, as did providing more dollars to a school district that continues to flounder. On top of that, the Nutter administration was asking Council to approve AVI before the new assessments were finished.
Add in the fact that the body has six freshman members concerned about re-election, several others who are considering a run for mayor in 2015 and a new president, and the politics got tricky. Still, Nutter started out with some support because many members are sympathetic to the schools and recognize that the current property-tax system is fundamentally unfair. His backing seemed to dwindle as Council grew frustrated with a lack of data on assessments and where the new tax rate would end up.
"How do you expect someone to cast a vote that's probably the most momentous in your career without the facts?" asked Councilman Jim Kenney.
What does this mean for Nutter's future at home and away? Most think local scuffles won't stop him from being a force in the media or on the Obama campaign.
"I believe his national reputation is more staked out because of his personal attributes than political," said political consultant Ken Smukler. "He presents well, certainly to the more progressive media. He, as an African-American mayor of a large city, is a very attractive talking head."
But locally, he may continue to lose steam. And that could make it harder to get certain things done in Council — like reviving the controversial soda-tax proposal, which failed in 2010 and '11. Many are speculating on whether Nutter will propose it again, although he has not revealed his intention.
"Between Michelle Obama and Michael Bloomberg, it's suddenly the kind of thing that people around the country are talking about," said Stalberg. "I think he still wants to get something done as far as the soda tax is concerned. I think this is going to make it more difficult."
Beyond the Mayor's Office, analysts said Nutter's national work could position him well for a top job at a nonprofit or a political organization. But a decline in his local political clout could make it harder for him to run for another office after his term is up in 2015. Nutter has not yet indicated his post-City Hall plans. n
Contact Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4172, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @phillyclout on Twitter. Read her blog, PhillyClout.com.