Mayor-elect Michael Nutter and City Council appear headed away from the poisoned relationship that evolved during Mayor John F. Street's tenure.
At least that's what Nutter and senior Council members were saying in interviews over the last two days. Some are predicting a level of concord not seen since the early mayoral years of Edward G. Rendell.
In fact, Nutter is sounding positively Rendellian, saying he wants Council input as he develops his first-year agenda.
"I'm tremendously respectful and sensitive to the relationship between the City Council and the mayor," Nutter said.
"I think a good, healthy, respectful relationship is 75 percent of the battle of moving this city forward . . . People want to see cooperation. They want to see us getting along and making progress and putting an end to all the bickering and the pettiness and the politics of personality. That has to come to an end."
Councilman James Kenney has been counting down Street's days in office for years. Although Kenney, like every other member of Council, didn't support Nutter in the primary, he said he's excited about the new year.
"I anticipate an excellent relationship," Kenney said. "I look forward to access, having our ideas heard . . . Mayor Nutter will face some very difficult issues early on, and it's our job to help him succeed."
Councilman Darrell Clarke, who frequently had to carry Street's water in Council, believes that Nutter should clearly communicate what he wants to do in the next few years.
"We need to do the same and then hope we can find a consensus," he said.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco, for years a sharp critic of Street's, said: "Council members want to feel included. They may not always agree with the mayor, but they can give feedback."
Joining the returning incumbents in the largely unchanged Council will be at least three freshmen: at-large member Bill Green, son of former Mayor Bill Green; Curtis Jones, in Nutter's former district, the 4th, stretching from Roxborough to Overbrook Park; and Maria Quinones Sanchez in the 7th District that runs from eastern North Philadelphia to the Northeast.
Republican David Oh, a Korean-American in his second bid for elective office, and Republican incumbent Jack Kelly were locked in a race so close that a winner could not be determined last night. (See story this page.)
Nutter said the mayor-Council relationship boils down to "communicating, collaborating and cooperating to get things done."
Of course, Street had plenty of nice things to say about Council after his election in 1999. He also wrongly assumed that Council would be the least of his problems because he'd served as its president.
Just 18 months later, Street's relationship with Council was in tatters. His tendency toward autocratic behavior as Council president turned dysfunctional, and Council members complained about a mayoral obsession with control and secrecy.
His handpicked successor as Council president, Anna Verna, stopped meeting weekly with Street, ending a tradition begun by Rendell, because she felt excluded from the policy-making process.
Even Street's longtime aide and successor in Council, Darrell Clarke, was mystified. "I don't understand how that relationship has deteriorated to the level it has," Clarke had said in June 2001. "I don't know if anything can be done at this point."
Six years later, the situation is not much better. Indeed, any number of Street initiatives are on hold and may never see the light of day as Council heads toward its December close.
Based on recent conversations with Nutter, Verna said: "Michael is very eager to work with Council. The mayor is going to have to share information with Council on a timely basis, listen to our concerns and then look for compromise."
What does he need to do to cement a solid relationship?
"People want to be heard," Verna said. "So, let's discuss the idea, look at the pros and cons and see what we can work out. In many instances, Council people have very good ideas, but who do you talk to about it, who would listen?"
By contrast, she describes the Street style as "my way or the highway - and that has to be a thing of the past."
Nutter said he wants Council members to be part of the process.
"City Council members want to be treated with dignity and respect," he said. "They want to feel like they are a partner in the government and that their views matter. So, I'm going to treat members of City Council the way I would have wanted to be treated as a City Council member."
He pledged to meet weekly with Verna and regularly with Council members.
Will they disagree on issues? Count on it, Nutter said.
"That doesn't mean that we have to be disagreeable. It doesn't mean that it should ever be personal. Members have a right to have ideas, and just because the mayor might think that it's not the best idea doesn't mean the mayor is right."
For Tasco, the difference between the Street term and the coming Nutter era has a lot to do with personality.
"I think that's the key difference here," she said. "I have not known Michael to be a mean-spirited individual, a vindictive person, an 'I'm going to get you' kind of person."
Nutter said of Street: "It just seemed that every issue was a major fight. It was more about who was going to win and who was going to lose than about getting something done. I want to get things done, and if we work with each other cooperatively we really can have what's referred to as a win-win situation."