The day after winning the Democratic mayoral nomination, Michael Nutter was struggling to put his finger on what voters want from him if he becomes Philadelphia's next chief executive.
"All I keep hearing from people is they want things to be better, or they want things to be different, or they want things to change," he said. "I think they're less specific about what they want to happen and more specific that they don't like things the way they are."
That analysis of his mandate, vague as it might be, is probably not far off the mark.
A number of civic leaders and political analysts say Nutter won the primary Tuesday not because of any position he took but because he was viewed as having the honesty, intelligence and capability to "change" things.
That gives him considerable freedom in where he goes from here. And he has plenty of time to ponder his options.
The new mayor won't be inaugurated for 32 more weeks. Having so long to wait before taking over (and so little prospect of being defeated in November by Republican Al Taubenberger) is both a blessing and a curse.
Nutter has the time to prepare himself in every way imaginable - and to lose the sense of momentum and good feeling generated by his victory.
"This long period of waiting, I don't see it as a particularly good thing," said Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "It's like a baseball team that wraps up a playoff spot in August. By October, they're cold and rusty."
Said Donald Kettl, director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania: "It gives him a tremendous opportunity to work on the issues and think about what kind of people he wants in his administration, but it also gives the existing political forces time to align, to constrain his options before he gets the chance to use the full heft of his office."
Nutter, who has battled often with Mayor Street in recent years, has already addressed some of these concerns, at least indirectly. He plans to speak out on the major issues that come before city government in the coming months, he said, so the incumbents can take his views into account.
The summer tasks for the city's likely next mayor include these:
Broaden his circle of contacts. Thanks to his reputation, Nutter should have little trouble attracting high-quality individuals to an administration. But as a councilman or a candidate, he has never had much of an infrastructure. And he'll need a cadre of high-powered people, including a new police commissioner, who have strong credentials.
Start converting his position papers into a few, high-priority, practical policy initiatives. Nutter can't have a formal transition team yet; that would smack of arrogance, with a general election still to win. He has talked of creating a "think tank" of sorts to begin that process.
Focus on the main challenges he'll face on taking office. Whether he likes it or not, his first year will be dominated by the city budget process, negotiating contracts with the four main city-employee unions, and trying to get control of mushrooming pension and health-care costs. "Along with assembling a management team, those items sort of set the agenda for your first six months," said Gregory Rost, who served as chief of staff in Mayor Rendell's second term. "Anything you do beyond that is really icing on the cake."
Establish a working relationship with a largely unchanged City Council. He knows the place, having served there for over 14 years. But not everyone there loves him. One of his position papers calls for seeking to "reduce the control" that district Council members have over activities in their districts. Members often have used their de facto vetoes to slow or kill major economic projects.
Work on ways to make government more efficient so that citizens don't think they need political connections to get things done. At a meeting with the board of the Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Nutter repeated his pledge to "blow up" the Department of Licenses and Inspections to improve its operations.
"Making government more responsive is an enormous challenge, and one that's very important," said Beverly Coleman, executive director of NeighborhoodsNow, a local nonprofit organization. "Can you get your street cleaned? Can you get that vacant house knocked down? If he can deliver services to the whole city, then maybe people will give him the time he needs to address the really tough issues that confront Philadelphia."
Perhaps the easiest change for Nutter to deliver will be the stylistic one. He promises to be more visible and accessible than Street and run a more open administration.
In addition to putting in place safeguards against ethical missteps by city employees, Nutter has pledged to make as many city documents public as possible and to publish an annual report on how he has done in achieving campaign promises.
He also has said he'll let key officials in his administration "talk frankly to the news media without requiring clearance from the Office of the Mayor."
Style points may not matter for long if the murder rate doesn't come down, if the school system doesn't get better, or if the city's economy doesn't start creating jobs in the private sector. But style isn't altogether a trivial matter.
"Having a government that is transparent and simple to deal with is a key element in making the city more competitive in attracting people and jobs," said Paul Levy, who runs the Center city District. "It would be great to have a mayor who's open and aggressive, who's there for all the people, who sends a message of optimism, and who doesn't seem to be carrying around wounds from the past."
So Nutter has plenty to do, and plenty to think about, in the long wait to assume the job that is nearly his.
To hear Michael Nutter talk about his plans to be a visible mayor,
Fresh off of Dad's victory, Olivia Nutter returns to being a sixth grader. A18.EndText