For Mayor Nutter, opponent T. Milton Street Sr. may be an itch that won't go away - but he is still by any measure the very distant second in next month's Democratic primary for mayor.
That has freed Nutter to concentrate on how to make the most of a second term, and at the moment that means getting some allies elected to City Council, where for three-plus years he has lacked a reliable majority of votes.
An official "Nutter slate" of candidates may not coalesce, but the mayor does intend to actively back Council aspirants in some competitive races for open seats. He recently endorsed Cindy Bass, an aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, in the seven-way Democratic primary in Germantown's Eighth District.
As early as this week, according to sources familiar with Nutter's plans, he is expected to announce his support for state systems analyst Mark Squilla, one of four Democrats vying to represent South Philadelphia's First District; State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, who faces three other Democrats in the Second District primary in Point Breeze and Southwest Philadelphia; and former School Reform Commission member Marty Bednarek, who is running in the Democratic primary against electricians union member Bobby Henon in the Northeast's Sixth District.
"It's always better to have more friends on the fourth floor than not, and I'm always looking to have more friends," Nutter said in an interview last week. Council chambers are on City Hall's fourth floor.
In all, Council will have five vacant seats because of the retirement of Democrats Anna C. Verna, Frank DiCicco, Donna Reed Miller, and Joan Krajewski - all district representatives - and Jack Kelly, an at-large Republican.
Nutter called Council "an incredibly important partner," saying: "I don't get to vote on things, so having good, hardworking, straightforward, focused members of City Council is critically important."
He has much to gain by putting his political clout on the line; many politicos believe the 53-year-old mayor is eyeing a federal or statewide office next.
"You certainly risk aggravating a lot of people, so staying out of these races is the safe thing to do," said Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, the nonprofit political watchdog. "But he needs some people who will vote for him, preferably a majority, if he is going to have a successful second term and some kind of a legacy."
The economy's downward spiral forced Nutter to delay or set aside many goals and initiatives he highlighted early in his term. Consequently, with few new dollars to spend, he can point to few visible successes, and his achievements, while considerable, revolve largely around keeping Philadelphia's finances on stable ground.
At the same time, he has sparred with Council in highly publicized matches that Nutter, in many cases, lost. Early on, that included his effort to close 11 libraries and persuade Council members to return their city-issued cars. More recently, he failed to enact his soda tax, and Council overrode his veto of a measure to force community festivals and ethnic parades to pay for police overtime.
"If he was batting .900 or so with City Council in his first term, it would be one thing," Democratic political consultant Larry Ceisler said. "But he had limited success with City Council, and now you are going to have a new City Council. So he has a chance here to have some meaningful political chits if he can be integral in getting some of these people elected."
In the backdrop is another important race - for Verna's Council presidency, which won't take place until January. With Verna retiring, two members have voiced interest in the job: Marian B. Tasco and Darrell L. Clarke, with Tasco regarded as Nutter's preference since Clarke is an ally of former Mayor John F. Street's. In 2007, Nutter ran for mayor as the "anti-John Street."
Tasco's bid for the presidency has been muddied by her participation in the publicly reviled Deferred Retirement Option Plan pension program; on Dec. 31, she is set to collect a $478,057 lump-sum pension payment even if reelected. (A lawsuit challenging her candidacy because of her DROP participation is pending in the state Supreme Court.)
At candidate forums, Council candidates are being asked whether they would support Tasco for president.
Though Nutter has called for the elimination of DROP, he seemed to make an extra effort Thursday to express his admiration for Tasco.
With the councilwoman standing at his side at a rare news conference in his office, he praised her measures against predatory lending and for lobbyist registration, her antismoking efforts, and her constituent service.
"So this is a great continuation of her leadership in the City Council," Nutter said of Tasco's sponsorship of a bill further restricting campaign contributions, which he signed into law during the news conference.
For Nutter, a good partnership with the next Council president could greatly ease efforts to move his agenda forward.
"It is always important when you are trying to lead the city in difficult times to have everybody pulling in the same direction," Democratic political consultant Dan Fee said. "Ed Rendell would not have been able to do what Ed Rendell did without the support of City Council, which John Street led."
It remains unclear exactly what an endorsement by Nutter would mean - campaign contributions, help in getting out the vote, recorded phone calls, appearances on the campaign trail, mailings, or something else.
In the five-way Democratic primary for district attorney in 2009, Nutter weighed in four days before Election Day with a recorded phone call backing candidate Dan McElhatton, who lost.
"It was meaningless," McElhatton said last week. "To have calls made on the Thursday and Friday before the election when the inducement to run was conversations that I had with the mayor . . . was not only worthless but was extremely disappointing."