Penn IUR and the School of Social Policy & Practice welcomed SP2 Senior Fellow Michael Nutter, Former Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, on March 21st for the first event in a series of Urban Talks. Following introductions by Penn IUR Co-Director Susan Wachter and Penn IUR Faculty Fellow Mark Alan Hughes, Director, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, Michael Nutter recounted his initial call to public service and his journey to the Mayor’s Office. Nutter began by walking the audience through his early life growing up in a middle class West Philadelphia neighborhood, his high school years at St. Joseph’s Preparatory school in what was at the time a dangerous section of North Philadelphia, and his transition to college at the University of Pennsylvania. Nutter’s first exposure to politics came during a summer stint working at a nightclub that hosted political gatherings for the growing Black empowerment movement. A connection from the nightclub introduced him to local politician John C. Anderson, who would become his mentor in the following decades. Through his work on Anderson’s campaign for City Council, Nutter saw the impact that quality public service leadership could have on the lives of real people in Philadelphia. This exposure to new people and places across his home city was what inspired him to follow the call to public service himself.
Following early unsuccessful attempts to run for office in the 1980s, Nutter was elected to City Council in 1991 and remained a member for the next 14 years. In 2003, following a corruption scandal in the Mayor’s Office, Nutter began debating a run himself. Despite a pollster’s findings that Nutter would come in fifth place no matter the other opponents in the race, he decided to take a chance on a campaign. Given the current climate of crime and corruption in the city and his experience on City Council, he believed he had something to offer the city. Running a mayoral campaign closely resembles starting up a business: candidates begin with a core of support, but need to be highly organized in order to broaden their appeal, keep donations consistently, and eventually win elections. With his well-organized team and his consistent message, Nutter beat initial expectations to win the Democratic primary in June and handily win the general election in November. Nutter concluded his remarks with a video clip of his swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address from January 2008. He highlighted the magnitude of transitioning from the campaign to the real responsibility of governing, which he will cover in his second address in the Urban Talk series. He then fielded a variety of questions from the audience on how to deal with the criticism that is inescapable as a public official, what actions he took in the period between winning the democratic primary and inauguration to best prepare himself for the job, and what he sees as the key issues facing Philadelphia today.