Philadelphia at times seemed like a second home for Barack Obama and his inner circle. The President spoke at Temple in 2014 ahead of Tom Wolf’s election as governor. He went to David L. Cohen’s house for a million-dollar fundraiser in 2013. There were numerous other visits, too, Obama announcing “I’ve got incredible memories of Philly” a few weeks ago; hell, Joe Biden would come up here for dinner (literally).
Washington reciprocated. Our city’s leaders were routinely invited to the “swamp.” Former Mayor Michael Nutter became president of the DC-based United States Conference of Mayors and was introduced at a meeting featuring appearances and speeches by Biden and education secretary Arne Duncan. Obama called on former police commissioner Charles Ramsey to lead the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
So for the last eight years, Philadelphia felt like it mattered to the highest office in the country. The line between leadership in Philadelphia and leadership in Washington felt as direct as an Acela trip on the Northeast Corridor. The constant visits and backdoor handshakes likely lent prominence to a city trying to market itself on the national scale.
Donald Trump has promised to drain the swamp; are Philly’s advantages going down that path?
The relationship between Philadelphia and Trump’s inner circle was certainly rocky pre-election.
About two weeks ago, Mayor Jim Kenney called Trump an “Oompa Loompa” on Twitter and he’s also referred to him as a “weirdo perv.” In the days coming up to the election, he used #beatthecreep to illustrate his distaste for Trump.
Then there’s Chris Christie, likely to be a key member in Trump’s cabinet. While Kenney was still a councilman, he famously called the New Jersey governor “fat assed” and a “creep.”
Christie and Trump aren’t exactly known as diplomatic types. They’re known to hold grudges and retaliate.
Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Kenney, said the Mayor has extended his congratulations to Trump and believes they can work together.
“During the campaign, there were some pretty harsh things said by all sides,” she said via email, “and we believe, in accordance with the President-elect’s acceptance speech, that all sides are ready to move on from the vitriol of the campaign.”
Had Clinton won, none of this would be an issue. Leaders like Kenney, Ed Rendell and Congressman Bob Brady had crafted close relationships with her, and Nutter was mentioned as a candidate to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development or Transportation Secretary under Clinton.
Instead nearly everyone in City Hall struggled to cope with the Trump victory. City Council and Kenney staffers were teary-eyed Wednesday.
The most tangible way the federal government benefits a city is through grants that go to education, infrastructure, security and many other categories. Trump has already threatened to cut all federal funding for sanctuary cities like Philadelphia if they don’t revoke their sanctuary status.
But the President doesn’t have the most influence on funding. It’s up to Congress. Mark Nevins, a political consultant on the local and national level, notes leaders like Congressmen Brady and Dwight Evans and Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey are in position to keep a healthy amount of funding steered toward Philly.
“Certainly having the White House and the administration on your side can help leverage influence when you need it,” said Nevins, partner at Dover Strategy Group. “I’d rather have a sympathetic ear in the white House than not. But at the end of the day when it comes to real dollars and cents, I’m not sure it’s the most important relationship you can have in Washington DC.”
Brady told Billy Penn he doesn’t expect problems developing rapport with the White House. He compares it to working with George W. Bush. He might not always agree with the new President but will offer support.
As far as payback for having a close relationship with Clinton and routinely dismissing Trump? Brady doesn’t see it coming. He thinks Republicans who were dismissive of Trump could face greater difficulty.
“Republicans that say they’re writing in another name and say they’re not voting for him for the last minute,” he said. “We have people voting for him at 7 o’clock at night because they were worried about their own ass.”
The ways Trump and his circle could influence Philadelphia would likely be the less tangible. The decisions to seek input from Philadelphia leaders, as Obama did, could end. The visits could dry up, at least until the next election comes around. Trump may have gone to Penn, but he said, “it’s very sad to see what’s going on in Philadelphia” and added that Kenney is “doing a terrible job.”
The agenda of Trump’s administration could also be less beneficial to big cities and the people who live in them, leading to fewer resources dispensed through Congress. All cities would be hurt in that case, not just Philadelphia.
Brady is trying to be as diplomatic as possible at this point. He said he even plans to write an editorial explaining why even though he expects to disagree with Trump plenty everyone should get behind him — “I don’t condone the protests” — and keep an open mind about his presidency.
“He’s our president,” Brady said. “He’s my president. I don’t have another president but Donald Trump.”