Mayor Nutter to bask in national limelight

Posted: September 05, 2012

CHARLOTTE - The speaking gig was already a big deal for Mayor Nutter: an evening slot on the rostrum of the Democratic National Convention.

Some of the mayor's big-name Democratic compatriots, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, aren't speaking at all, while others, like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, were assigned earlier, less-visible times.

"I was already excited," Nutter said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Excited, that is, before he got a call this week from President Obama's campaign. Nutter's speech, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was being moved to Thursday night - before Obama himself takes the stage to formally accept the nomination.

"To speak on the same night, in the same arena, as President Barack Obama? I mean it's just something way beyond anything that I could have imagined as a [kid] running around 55th and Larchwood out in West Philadelphia," Nutter said.

His speech has been vetted ("very much so") by the Obama campaign, the mayor said. He wouldn't give a taste of what is to come, but said "it will be clear and factual and direct."

Nutter's strut on the national stage could be viewed as significant for those theorizing that he could leave office early and take a high-level job in Obama's second term.

Within the Democratic family, Nutter had been seen as a Clinton man. He actually ran in 1992 as a Pennsylvania delegate for presidential candidate Bill Clinton, then a little-known Arkansas governor - a fact that Nutter said he reminisced about with Clinton on Tuesday.

And Nutter endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the New York senator, when she ran against Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

But while he said he has "a very strong relationship" with the Clintons, he has a "growing and developing relationship" with the Obamas.

That doesn't, however, mean he's moving to Washington if Obama wins. "I'm very focused on my job as mayor of the city of Philadelphia," he said. "I have no expectations for the future. I don't expect to be asked."

Regardless of his political future, a little national visibility in Charlotte can't hurt. Walking down one street near the convention Wednesday afternoon, he didn't seem to be recognized by a single Democrat.

He was accompanied by a security detail; his wife, Lisa; a representative from the Obama campaign; and a staffer who carried a large blue binder with a list of the events he is attending or speaking at this week.

And a stuffed binder it was: As Nutter explained, he must juggle responsibilities here as Democratic officeholder (he spoke to the Pennsylvania delegation Tuesday morning), as an Obama surrogate (he appeared on CNN this week), and as president of the nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Addressing the Pennsylvania delegation, Nutter fired up the partisans about the president: "Wanna know how tough he is? Ask Osama bin Laden how tough Barack Obama is."

Later, in a more cerebral appearance on a panel with the mayors of Charlotte, Houston, and Florence, Italy, Nutter reflected on the challenges and opportunities of running a big city.

He spoke broadly of cities as "incubators of innovation" and specifically about his effort to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the country. He said he was building relationships with the four suburban counties for a regional approach to economic development; he called for a New Deal-like investment in education, and he suggested that the federal government "could be more helpful" in addressing urban violence.

Nutter also responded to an article in The Inquirer on Wednesday that noted the possible $10,000 cost to taxpayers for his convention trip.

"I should just stay in my office for about 18 hours a day and never see anyone," he said sarcastically, to laughter from his audience.

He proceeded to tick off the ideas he had learned by traveling the country and talking to other mayors, thus making it increasingly clear that staying put in City Hall is not on the mayor's schedule.


Contact Matt Katz

at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/christiechronicles

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