Nutter veto overridden, bills he opposes passed

Mayor Nutter's veto aimed to retain the resign-to-run bill.
Mayor Nutter's veto aimed to retain the resign-to-run bill.
Posted: February 22, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Mayor Nutter opposes ending the rule that elected city officials must resign to run for another office, so much so that he vetoed a bill to put the matter to voters to decide.

He also didn't much care for a package of bills designed to frustrate his administration's plan to hire a private law firm to represent the poor.

City Council defied Nutter on both accounts Thursday, overturning his veto and passing the slate of bills related to indigent defense, all by 15-0 counts.

Council's willingness to rebuff Nutter - and his dearth of dependable votes in the chamber where he once served - has been apparent for some time.

But Thursday's veto override made Councilman James F. Kenney - a former Nutter ally turned vocal critic - feel "nostalgic" for the more bare-knuckled politics of a previous era.

In comments from the Council floor, Kenney recalled one of his bills passing by 16-0 during the reign of Nutter's predecessor, Mayor John F. Street.

Street vetoed the bill, and by the time Kenney called for an override, Street had peeled off enough support to sustain the veto. It takes two-thirds of Council, or 12 votes when the chamber has its full complement of 17 members, to override a veto.

"We'll see how this one goes," Kenney said Thursday of Nutter's veto. Moments later, Council voted to override.

The question implicit in Kenney's parable was: Why bother with a veto if you don't have the support?

In a note to Council announcing his action, Nutter said he believed the resign-to-run rule "has worked," and pointed out that an attempt to end it in 2007 was defeated at the ballot box.

"The rule has helped to ensure that the city's business - that is, the people's business - takes precedence over the . . . demands of an election campaign," he wrote.

Mark McDonald, the mayor's spokesman, said Nutter had to follow his beliefs.

"When you're mayor, you have to act in a responsible fashion," he said.

The sponsor of the resign-to-run legislation, Councilman David Oh, said his goal was to encourage Philadelphia politicians to seek higher office, and spread the city's influence in Harrisburg and Washington.

Too many politicians, Oh said, are unwilling to give up safe seats to run. The change, if approved by voters in the May 20 primary, would not go into effect until 2016, after the next mayoral election.

Primary voters are also likely to see a question on the ballot asking them if Council should be required to approve certain contracts related to legal representation of the poor.

Councilman Dennis O'Brien recently fought an administration effort to hire a private law firm to represent the poor when the public defender's office has a conflict, as occurs in numerous cases. He and some in the legal community voiced concerns that a private firm would put profit before clients.

The contract the administration proposed awarding to a private firm did not require Council's approval. O'Brien's legislation asks voters to change that.

Nutter could veto O'Brien legislation, of course - but that might only add to Kenney's nostalgia.


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730

@troyjgraham

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