MAYOR NUTTER had a lot to say yesterday about Election Day turnout, characterizing the 26 percent voter participation as "a disgrace."
But Nutter directed much of his frustration not at voters, but at City Commissioner Chairman Anthony Clark, who skated to re-election victory on Tuesday without breaking a sweat. In the months leading up to the election, Clark was dogged by media reports that he was a no-show at his City Hall office and he failed to vote, even though a big part of his job, for which he gets paid about $139,000, is to encourage voter participation.
"I have no idea whether [Clark] voted yesterday or not, but he can't seem to even figure out how to vote himself," Nutter fumed. "I think we do a better job as a city government encouraging people to recycle than [Clark's] office does in encouraging people to vote. It is just absolutely pathetic."
Clark, a Democrat who ran unopposed, did not return a phone call from the Daily News yesterday.
Nutter reiterated his stance that the City Commissioners' Office, which is run by Clark and two other elected officials, should be abolished and replaced with a mayoral appointee, vetted by City Council.
"There is no other department in this city government that could play a more critical role in what happens on Election Day, not from a candidate-to-candidate fashion, but true participation and I think that office is just a complete disaster in its conduct of promoting voting here in the city of Philadelphia," Nutter said. "We need a professional election official who goes through either a nomination or confirmation process."
Al Schmidt, the Republican commissioner who won a second term in office on Tuesday, took issue with Nutter's view of the office. Putting it mildly.
"Our turnout is around 26 percent, which is comparable, if not better, than most large cities in the United States," Schmidt said. "If the mayor has information contrary to any statistics that I'm familiar with, then I would welcome the opportunity to hear them."
Schmidt said he won't make excuses for Clark. But, he added, it is "absurd" to draw a "causal relationship" between voter turnout and Clark's voting record.
"We heard repeatedly throughout the day that this was by far one of the smoothest elections that people have experienced in Philadelphia," Schmidt said. "We have worked very hard to improve the voter's experience, so if the mayor or anyone else has an issue with Anthony [Clark], they should take it up with Anthony." Schmidt said voter turnout increased from 20 percent in the 2011 election to 26 percent on Tuesday.
In fairness to Clark, his election duties were curtailed this year because, like Schmidt, he was seeking re-election, so two judges stepped in for Clark and Schmidt when it came to making decisions surrounding the election to avoid an appearance of conflict.
Nutter conceded that voter turnout has declined nationwide in recent years. Still, 26 percent of roughly 1 million registered city voters was far from ideal.
"It's a 13-hour day and really is a disgrace, especially for Americans in general, and for people of color who struggled so many years," Nutter said. "You think about all the folks who struggled and some died and beat up and all kinds of stuff that people put up with just to have the opportunity to vote. And now, somehow 50-some-odd years later, we take it for granted, but you don't have to walk 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. You are five minutes out of your house, so I mean it's really pathetic what's going on."
Tuesday's weather was a candidate's dream. More than 70 degrees and sunny, perfect for a stroll to the polls. So what gives?
Max Paolucci, 30, a video editor from Northern Liberties, said this was the first time he didn't vote.
"I didn't vote because I felt like there was a lot of confusion in my head as to where I should be. The smear campaigns and a lot of the commercials really added up and it brings an overall level of mistrust for all of the candidates," he said, while eating lunch in Dilworth Park. "I just felt that I was not on a good foot to make a decision."
Edward Molizone, 83, a retired cook from Fox Chase who once worked for "Chef Tell," said it's been years since he voted because he hasn't found anyone worth standing in line for.
"I look for change, and nothing changed," Molizone said. "It's not that I don't want to vote, but what's the point in voting for a person who says they're going to do this, but when they get into office I don't see it?"
Leslie Coker, 58, and Shane Johnson, 40, both city social workers from Wynnefield, said they voted on Tuesday as they always do, driven by the sacrifices of those who died and were jailed during the Civil Rights era, but they understand why others don't bother.
"I think people are just so overwhelmed with daily life that they just don't make it a part of their schedule to vote," Coker said. "Especially in the city, too, in Philadelphia, I don't think the votes are wasted, but it's just so heavily Democratic that there's not a whole lot of options. That may have influenced some."