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Mayor Muddle

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By Tom Ferrick Jr.

For any group willing to try it out, I think I have found a method to get money and support from the Nutter administration.  Here is my plan: Arrange for a meeting with the mayor and his chamber of deputies, bring along a Powerpoint that outlines the goals and needs of your worthy project.  At the end, say: Thank you for taking the time to hear us out today. In conclusion, I want to say that under no circumstances do we want you to support this project, financially or in any other way.

Then go home and wait for a big check from the city to arrive.

I know it sounds odd - maybe too obvious a use of reverse psychology.  But, consider the alternative - to ask the mayor come out in support of your project and put money for it in the city budget. If that happens, you are screwed.

Let's look at the record:

Earlier this year, the mayor made much ado about Philadelphia becoming the greenest city in America and how important and vital it was to green up our landscape.. Then, in the most recent round of budget cuts, he eliminated $2.5 million set aside for tree planting and another $1 million for greening up vacant lots.

The mayor stood four-square for the city's arts and culture fund as essential.  Then he cut $1 million from the arts and culture fund.

This is not new.

After all, the mayor was against tax increases as injurious to the city's long-term economic health.. Then he raised taxes.

He was a champion of public libraries.  Then he tried to close them.

He was against any cuts in the police force.  Then he cut it.

The city announced that henceforth the organizers of civic parades and ethnic celebrations were going to have to pay the bill for police overtime and other costs the city incurs. Then, the city paid the bill for the Welcome America celebration over July 4th.  Why? Because, as the mayor explained, Welcome American is different. Oh, okay.

Actually, the folks who were the first to figure out how to get what you want out of this administration were the organizers of one of these civic events.  Remember when the Dad Vail Regatta decided to move to northern New Jersey, in part because of the increased costs of paying for police and city workers?

The mayor was shocked, angry and vowed to move heaven and earth to get Dad Vail to stay.  The regatta did end up staying, in part because, upon reflection, the good folks in New Jersey decided they didn't want no stinkin' regatta in their town.  But, Dad Vail sure got the mayor's attention.

pushmi-pullyu.jpgSome people see this pattern and call it indecisiveness, but that's not the right word.  The right word - albeit an old-fashioned one - is inconstancy, which my dictionary defines as "likely to change frequently without apparent or cogent reason; lacking firmness or steadiness."

The administration replies that these changes are necessary because of the city's budget woes.  It's a phrase they usually precede with a string of adjectives that make it sound like someone introducing a circus act - the absolutely unprecedented, amazing, incredible budget woes.

Not to be a spoil sport, but I have to point out that virtually every state and local government entity has been going through the same budget traumas, courtesy of the recession. It's been a clarifying moment for most of them - a time when they had to firmly establish priorities and act accordingly.

Take the state of Pennsylvania, where Gov. Rendell is the decider.  Rendell took the axe to government operations in a serious way, while also declaring as his No. 1 priority providing additional state support to the public schools.  He's gotten the money he wants.

So why does it feel we are just muddling along in Philadelphia, without particular purpose or direction?  Could it be because the administration, collectively, has no purpose or direction? That it consists internally of competing forces, all with equal access to the mayor, who push and pull him in one direction or another?

There's a striking image.  If this administration were an animal, it would be a pushmi-pullyu, the mythical creature from the Dr. Doolittle books that consisted of two llama-like beasts, jointed at the waist, each pulling in opposite directions.

As a result, it expends a lot of energy with little result.  It is motion, without forward movement.

This is what happens when the man in charge is inconstant. The sad thing about Michael Nutter is that once upon a time he did have constancy: a clear, well-articulated vision of ways to move this city forward through a series of specific actions and reforms.

Whatever happened to that guy? Oh, there he is: saddled up and sitting astride his pushmi-pullyu, happily waving to the crowd.

 

Tom Ferrick Jr. is senior editor of Metropolis.

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