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A confident Nutter takes a look back at his tenure

Mayor Nutter is not one to complain about his job. It is a gig he has loved, maybe never more so than in his last year, which he took on with a mix of nostalgia and joy, rarely focusing, at least publicly, on the end.

Outgoing Mayor Nutter.
Outgoing Mayor Nutter.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Mayor Nutter is not one to complain about his job. It is a gig he has loved, maybe never more so than in his last year, which he took on with a mix of nostalgia and joy, rarely focusing, at least publicly, on the end.

But on a recent afternoon in his office, still cluttered with papers and not a moving box in sight, Nutter conceded that being "up" for the better part of eight years has been taxing.

"Not just awake. Up," he said. "The moment I step out of that car in the morning, I know that people are looking. What kind of mood is the mayor in? Is his head up, head down? Is he grumpy? Is he this? Is he that? Big hello."

That's not to say he has tired of it, or of talking about the city he inherited (one about to plunge into a recession) and the city he will pass on Jan. 4 to Mayor-elect Jim Kenney (one he said was safer, smarter, and booming with development).

Given a last opportunity to look back, he marked his highs, justified the lows, and pushed back on the notion that his tenure would be defined by his tumultuous relationship with City Council.

He stayed on message until the very end.

He said he has prepared to say goodbye. But he paused when asked whether, after eight years of being "up," he was ready to slow down.

"I don't know," he said. "Ask me in January."

Nutter is certain of what he accomplished, and rattles off the highs like a script. A reduction in homicides and violent crimes. An additional $400 million in recurring funding for schools. More Philadelphians working than at any time in the last 25 years. A more honest city government where crooks are more likely to be caught.

Taking a stab at his legacy, he said he was "a steady, forceful, clear leader in a time of crisis," who moved the city forward despite tough challenges.

"I'd take that," he said.

He knows the blemishes, too.

And before a question can be asked about the city's poverty rate - highest of the 10 largest U.S. cities and higher now than when he took office - he starts his answer.

It's no surprise, he said, that the rate rose during the recession, but he noted that it was down from a high of 28 percent to 26 percent today. He said the challenge wasn't unique to his tenure.

"It is the great challenge for this city," he said.

Despite that challenge and others, Nutter said, his team "got done just about everything we wanted to get done."

On the ethics reforms he championed, he said, city employees who break the law are "much more likely to be caught today."

On his self-described worst decision - a 2008 proposal to close some city libraries - he said it taught him a valuable lesson: "Push the team enough for more options."

And on his proposed sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works, which ultimately was blocked by City Council, Nutter said he didn't believe the controversy would define "in any way, shape, or form" his time in office.

It also, he said, shouldn't define his relationship with Council, which he contended was not as toxic as critics would suggest.

"You'll find, you know, one big thing and a couple smaller things that you will want to try to highlight as evidence of strain," Nutter said. ". . . And what I will do is give you 200 things that were big and important or tough that got done."

That one big thing - the potential sale of PGW - died last year in a public spectacle when not one member of Council would introduce a bill to give the proposal a hearing.

Nutter is still willing to rehash the painful fray, which he maintains he handled well. But more so, he minimized its significance, and the rift with Council.

He called the relationship "straightforward," not strained.

And he declined to comment - save for a shrug and a few dismissive nods - on the most recent example of animosity, when City Council President Darrell L. Clarke earlier this month promised his colleagues in remarks on the Council floor that working with Kenney would be a better experience.

That was less than two hours after Nutter had made a visit to the chamber to thank Council members for their service.

Nutter said he genuinely hoped Clarke and Kenney would get along well.

"Maybe they will, you know, sing songs together, and everything will be beautiful," he said. "If that happens, I could not be more thrilled out of my mind."

Whatever he thinks of the pairing, and of his successor's moves in office, the public is not likely to know. Nutter said he planned to keep his opinions to himself.

"Former mayors have to walk off the stage, stay out of the way, only comment in a supportive way, if you're going to comment at all about anything. And always be ready to serve if asked," he said. "Otherwise, mind your business."

He plans to stay involved in addressing the city's challenges. But asked how, the details are thin. He has put off nearly every decision on his future, he said, until after Jan. 4.

Instead, he said, he has spent the year savoring each of the big moments - the Fourth of July concert, the papal visit, the announcement that Philadelphia will host the Democratic National Convention - as well as the routine tasks.

He said he would miss the quiet moments in his office after a big decision had been made, when his staff emptied out and he was left alone to reflect.

"As some might say in the neighborhood," he said, "you've got to get your head right."

He seems to be doing that now, coming to terms with leaving while he rather would stay.


Worst Day, Best Day on the Job


"My first worst day on the job was Saturday, May 3, 2008, when Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was killed. And you know I've had at least 11 other, 13 other really bad days in that regard. We lost eight police officers and four firefighters and a PGW worker and a fleet-management guy, all killed at work.

"I'd have to say one of the best days was certainly greeting Pope Francis at Philadelphia International Airport. Seeing him standing at the top of the stairway, and then down on the ground.

"But, you know, I mean, I was pretty excited when we got an A rating from all three rating agencies, too, but I mean that doesn't really kind of compare to that. Knowing that more and more kids are graduating from high school is a big thing. Ten thousand summer jobs this past summer. I was pretty excited about that as well. So, I mean . . . the great moments again far outweigh the bad ones. But the bad ones were really bad."

- Tricia L. NadolnyEndText


See Mayor Nutter talk about his best day on the job and his worst day, at