Let's just say that Philadelphia business leaders do not expect to be marching in the streets for a tax protest if Michael A. Nutter parlays his primary victory into a four-year lease on the mayor's office.
That's what happened five years ago when Mayor Street tried to halt a series of small cuts in the reviled city wage tax. Protesters had some fervent allies in City Council. One was Nutter, and his support during that April 2002 protest is one reason many Philadelphia executives are thrilled by the prospect of Nutter as mayor.
"It was the start of something special between a city councilperson and the business community," said Judith M. von Seldeneck, who was chairwoman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce at the time.
"It's almost like one of our own won," said von Seldeneck, chief executive officer of Diversified Search Inc., an executive recruitment firm in Center City.
Business leaders interviewed last week had almost no familiarity with Nutter's 12-page plan for economic development, which is heavy on support for small business, workforce development, and tax incentives for neighborhood development.
But Nutter's broad-brush attitudes - toward business (positive), taxes (they should be lower), and the role of the mayor as a chief salesman for the city - are confidence-inspiring, said bankers, restaurateurs, a candymaker, and a meat processor.
Hugh Long, CEO of Wachovia's MidAtlantic Banking Group, said: "I am really pleased this election gave us a good outcome," stressing that he would not be saying the same thing if someone else had won the primary.
Not every business owner gushed about Nutter. Bruce H. Schwartz, president of Jerith Manufacturing Co., a producer of aluminum fencing in Northeast Philadelphia, said he did not even follow the race. "Really, the mayor doesn't have that much impact on what we do here. We have our taxes, and they will always be high," Schwartz said. "My next step is not moving to another county or another state; it's to another country" where labor is cheaper, said Schwartz, who had moved Jerith from Juniata to the Northeast in 2001.
If Schwartz goes, as have legions of manufacturers before him, that would mean the loss of 240 jobs from a city that has endured year after year of net job losses almost continuously for decades, with only a brief reprieve in the late 1990s.
After climbing for three years to reach a recent peak of 695,900 in 2000, city employment fell 34,000, or 4.9 percent, to reach 661,900 at the end of 2006. Closely tied to the relentless job losses are crushing problems in neighborhoods around the city of 1.48 million: One-quarter of the population lives in poverty; and the city's workforce is poorly educated, compared with such cities as Boston and Atlanta that compete with Philadelphia for companies.
The city - already among the most heavily taxed in the nation - faces daunting financial burdens from debt service, pensions and health benefits, which are consuming an ever-bigger portion of the city budget. This dismal financial situation makes Ellen Yin, co-owner of Fork Restaurant and Fork Etc. in Old City, and a strong supporter of Nutter, think that cutting taxes is not a panacea.
"It's great to say that you're going to reduce the taxes," Yin said, "but the bigger question is, how are we are going to make the city run more efficiently?"
Nutter made improved efficiency a key part of his budget plan, projecting that the city could cut $47 million a year out of the cost of operations. Yin is also counting on Nutter's connections with the board of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority to make the Convention Center more marketable.
When Nutter resigned as chairman of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority board last month to focus on his campaign for mayor, he was lauded for his energetic leadership, his responsiveness to customers, and his willingness to play a role in selling the city as a destination. "Is this guy going to be more receptive to going out and cheerleading and being the face of the city?" asked Brett Mandel, executive director of Philadelphia Forward, a tax-reform group. "It sure seems like it," and that sets Nutter apart dramatically from Street, he said.
If Nutter becomes mayor, business owners expect him to be responsive to the businesses that are already here.
Except for Tom Knox, other candidates didn't pay much attention to business, said Jon Myerow, owner of Tria, a wine, cheese and beer cafe at 18th and Sansom Streets in Center City. Other candidates were more interested in neighborhoods, he said, "which is fine, but unless business thrives here, it's irrelevant."