As a Jersey-born and raised Democrat, it was interesting to watch the difference between the recent performances of the black mayor from the north of my home state (Cory Booker of Newark) and the black mayor from the south of my home state (Michael Nutter of Philadelphia). I come from Central New Jersey, about five miles north of the dividing line for sports and media allegiance. Culturally, I’m a New Yorker living currently in the Philly suburbs. New Jerseyians of the New Yorker persuasion tend to see South Jersey as an alien and backward place, and Philly as a strictly second-rate city. I’ve come to love Philadelphia, if not its sports teams, but I’ll probably never shake a certain arrogance about New York. I’ll always be a Jersey Boy, and, no, that doesn’t include people from the southern half of the state, which might as well be Ohio for topography and culture.
Yet, I am much more attracted to the politics of Michael Nutter than the politics of Cory Booker. I should probably qualify that. I think Cory Booker is a much better mayor than Michael Nutter, judging by the results. I just like how Nutter has no qualms at all about blasting Mitt Romney and the work he did at Bain Capital. And I am nauseated by Cory Booker’s discomfort with the same attacks. Nutter is telling anyone who will listen that Mitt Romney will screw urban-dwellers in a very uncomfortable place, which is the plain truth. When Romney made an appearance at a West Philly school last week, Mayor Nutter let him have it.
“I don’t know why this guy’s here,” said Nutter. “[He] has suddenly somehow found West Philadelphia, somehow now wants to talk about education.”
“If you’re going to talk about education, it’d be nice if you had an education record,” Nutter said. “It’d be nice if you had an education platform. It’d be nice if you seemed to know something about education. You can go wherever you want to go — that’s the beauty of the United States of America. But the man’s got no record to run on.”
As for his time at Bain Capital, the mayor was blunt:
“Mitt Romney’s economic philosophy for a short term profit for himself and his investors ahead of long term growth for the companies bought and sold were devastating for the communities where he and his partners invested,” said Nutter, who then went over the numbers: Claiming Romney bought a company in Marion, Indiana in 1994, fired the workers, hired them back at a lower cost, then ultimately fired them all again.
Nutter called Romney a “corporate buyout specialist,” whose specialty included buying companies, bankrupting them, laying off workers and shipping jobs overseas.
Cory Booker, on the other hand, said that he was personally offended by attacks on ‘private equity” before he retracted his comments and said that attacks on Romney’s work at Bain Capital were fair game.
I hate to say it, but these different attitudes about the financial sector may partially explain why Booker is a better mayor. Booker understands how thin-skinned the money folks on Wall Street are about any kind of criticism. To be successful as mayor of Newark, Booker needs those folks to invest in his city. And it won’t hurt to have them as friends should he pursue higher office. That’s something former Philadephia Mayor Ed Rendell seems to have internalized, and it helps explain why he managed to become the first Philadelphia politician to become governor since the late 19th-Century.
Booker and Rendell are clueless about the politics, but they’re more successful politicians than Michael Nutter will ever be. This is why the Democratic Party can never become the party of the 99%. You can’t alienate investors and simultaneously do the best you can for your constituents. Mayors, in particular, are reliant on Wall Street, as they generally have limited budgets and rely on state and federal legislatures they don’t control for supplemental funding.
To fix the problem with money in politics, we have to be cognizant of two things. First, people with money to invest will always be very important and very powerful. Their power needs to be limited, but no party can govern effectively by treating them as unvarnished enemies. Second, the movement for reform must come from outside the party system because everyone who has been elected has, by definition, learned to succeed in the system as it exists. Their motivation to change rules that they’ve mastered is always going to be quite limited. Bad rules make for bad Democrats. Better rules will make for better Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter).
Still, I love Michael Nutter’s attitude on the campaign trail. That’s one area where he has something to teach to Booker and Rendell.