Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in Center City

Michael Nutter is reportedly considering jumping into the race to succeed Jim Kenney, after supporters asked the former mayor to enter a field already crowded with Democratic contenders.

If he does run, expect to hear both fond memories and bitter complaints.

Nutter, who left City Hall in 2016 after two terms, hasn’t taken any steps to launch a campaign and hasn’t commented on his thinking. But after several years of mostly staying out of local politics — he’s held dozens of national positions in media, education, and advocacy — the former exec has become more vocal in the past several months.

In June he indirectly sniped at Kenney for a shortage of the “enthusiasm, empathy, and energy” a mayor needs.

“We’ve seen what a lack of the traits that I mention can lead to — lackluster leadership dreading another day of public service, and a city that seems to be languishing in a sea of confusion and controversy, operating almost on autopilot with seemingly no real plans of action,” Nutter wrote in The Inquirer. “We deserve better, Philadelphia.”


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Alongside former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Nutter last month launched a podcast called “How to Really Run a City.” He also recently published essays on hot topics like the proposed Sixers arena on Market Street — it “would create new jobs…that we desperately need” — and the police department’s controversial “stop and frisk” practices (he favors them as part of a comprehensive policing strategy).

When Nutter was actually running things, Philadelphians had decidedly mixed feelings. In independent polls, his approval rating fell to as low as 39%, in 2013, before recovering to 52% near the end of his second term.

In case you don’t know or remember much about the Nutter years beyond his reputation as Mixmaster Mike, here are some highlights and lowlights of his time in the top office.

Community: City population grew, library system shrunk

High: During Nutter’s term, Philadelphia registered its first official population increase in 57 years. In the first decade of the millennium, the city added about 8,500 residents, a growth rate of 0.6%. The population hit 1.576 million in his last year and continued growing. That includes what Nutter calls “the largest percentage of millennial population growth in the nation”: 20-to-34 year olds made up 26% of residents in 2015, up from 20% a decade earlier.

Low: In 2008, Nutter proposed closing 11 libraries in response to a recession-induced budget crunch. That stirred up a storm of public anger and brought a legal challenge from some councilmembers. He later apologized and called it the “absolute worst decision” of his career. The branches stayed open, but the library system saw staffing cuts that have still not been fully reversed. His administration also botched the planned $1.86 billion sale of PGW, in part due to Nutter’s lack of relationships and poor communication with City Council.

Public safety: Violent crime fell, city slapped with discrimination settlement

High: The number of violent crimes fell 17% while Nutter was in office, and homicides decreased by more than 30%. He credited Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who previously headed the Washington D.C. police and became a popular figure in Philly.

Low: The ACLU in 2010 sued the Philadelphia Police Department over stop and frisk practices overwhelmingly targeting Black men. The resulting settlement, called the Bailey Agreement, mandated police training on racial bias, required creation of an electronic database of all such encounters, and set up a panel to evaluate their legality. Critics say police continued making many improper stops until Kenney took office in 2015. (Note: Along with other current mayoral candidates, Nutter has said he still views the policing tactic as a viable way to slow the city’s gun violence epidemic.)

Philly’s image: Pope and DNC come to town, ethics fines and guilty pleas

High: Pope Francis’ visit in 2015, the second official U.S. papal visit ever and the first since 1979, drew a huge influx of visitors. Later that year, Philadelphia became the first World Heritage City in the U.S. With Ed Rendell’s help, Nutter successfully lobbied for the Democratic National Convention to take place in Philly after he left office. Nutter, who while on Council pushed for creation of the city’s ethics board, hired a chief integrity officer and expanded the Inspector General’s Office. S&P raised the city’s bond rating to A- for the first time since 1979, cutting borrowing costs.

Low: Despite Nutter’s ethics push, scandal twice hit the Office of the City Representative, which promotes the city and produces official events. City Rep Melanie Johnson spent nearly $7,000 from the Mayor’s Fund on personal expenses, per the Board of Ethics, which in 2018 levied a fine. Successor Desiree Peterkin-Bell later pleaded guilty to spending nearly $20,000 improperly.

Development: New trails and beer gardens, building collapses and L&I corruption

High: Nutter inaugurated new amenities including the $18 million floating Schuylkill Boardwalk and a $1.1 million expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail. He presided over the launch of the Indego bike share program in 2015, and the city built bike lanes, pop-up parks, and summer beer gardens.

Low: Nutter came in vowing to reform the Department of Licenses and Inspections. But in 2013 shoddy demolition work caused the Salvation Army building on Market Street to collapse, killing six people. Nutter subsequently proposed and Council approved reforms. The FBI also investigated bribery at the scandal-prone agency, resulting in a 2014 indictment.

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Meir Rinde

Meir Rinde is a freelance reporter based in South Philadelphia. He writes about housing, infrastructure, transportation, local businesses, elections, science history, health and medicine, community issues,...