UNOFFICIALLY, Michael Nutter has been working to get to this day for years.

In 2004, he began what would be a ludicrously long fight in City Council - a Council that would continue to dig its heels in, even against a backdrop of convictions and indictments of public corruption around City Hall - to get his package of ethics bills passed. These bills, along with new campaign-finance limits, began a new chapter in the history of the city.

That new chapter has grown into a full story of reform, with Nutter the key author. The story resounded yesterday with voters, who gave him 36 percent of the vote in his bid to become Democratic nominee for the city's next mayor.

Tom Knox, who also ran on a platform of reform, gave Nutter a run for his money. (Or should we say, Knox's money). But the $10 million that businessman Knox spent couldn't buy City Hall.

In the end, Nutter's reform story had more depth and credibility. As a councilman for 15 years, he was an insider and an outsider, often bucking both the status quo and his colleagues (including Mayor Street). His ultimate success in pushing through his reform bills, as well as his smoking ban (one that he first tried to launch more than five years ago), tells the tale of tenacity and stubbornness.

He'll need both. In the likely event he becomes mayor, he'll be leading a city of both positives and negatives. Philadelphia is on the verge of greatness, with a new spirit, growth and optimism. And yet we are also beset by violence, by an education system in flux, by budget challenges, and far too many living in poverty.

To the credit of all the candidates, these problems and issues remained at the center of this race. U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, for example, focused on the huge problem of poverty in the city and pushed a plan to help solve it by leasing the airport to generate money. State Rep. Dwight Evans continued to fight for change, and reminded people of his passion for the city. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, also passionately committed to the city, focused on public safety.

All three return to positions in which their influence can help this city in immeasurable ways.

Even millionaire Knox may find a way to use his money, and his heightened awareness of the city's needs, to help solve Philadelphia's challenges.

It's all good. In fact, this election has produced the best possible outcome: focus on issues, candidates who go back to powerful jobs, and Michael Nutter, a smart, hardworking, progressive leader as the presumptive mayor.

It's a great day for this city. *