NBC10 Philadelphia - Daralene Jones
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was greeted with thousands of noisy union protesters when he attempted to give his budget address at City Hall on Thursday. NBC10's Daralene Jones reports.
Protesters brought Mayor Michael Nutter's annual budget address to a screeching halt this afternoon -- chanting so loudly, that he was forced to flee the room.
“No justice, no peace, no contract,” they yelled from the floor and the balcony, which was packed primarily with members of local unions and their supporters, for the annual address and council meeting. Some of the protesters held signs depicting Nutter as Bozo the Clown with red hair and red lips.
Dozens of police officers had to first create a tunnel for him to get into the chambers. As he got to the podium, protesters who had been loug all along, grew even more boisterous.
At first, Nutter tried to talk over the crowd, even having his microphone volume raised. For about five minutes, he attempted, repeatedly to deliver his address, but ultimately gave up.
With the crowds continuing to chant and the tension growing in the room, Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey were escorted out of council chambers by members of the Philadelphia police department. They were taken to the Council President's office as officials triedto decide what to do next.
Eventually, the meeting was paused while the crowd continued to chant, blow whistles and make noise. By about 1:15 p.m., Nutter continued his address in a separate room, attended only by the media and members of his staff. His staffers gave him a standing ovation when he was done. As the mayor's budget address is not required by law, the Open Meeting Act does not apply and he is able to speak without members of the public present.
"I've seen and been in every budget since January of 1976, and I've never seen anything like this," said Jannie Blackwell. "I've never seen the disconnect this strong between the people and the mayor, between the unions and the mayor."
Blackwell said that she thougth a riot was very possible.
"This will mark a turning point in his office," she said.
After the mayor delivered his address, he acknowedged but seemed to downplay what had happened.
"Eh, I mean it was pretty loud. I've actually, I think, heard it louder in chambers, although the whistle was maybe a new addition," Nutter said. "The situation was pretty obvious. I think going into it, everyone knew today was going to be a pretty loud day."
People are angry over two main issues – lack of contracts and the more recent, controversial issue of whether all city workers should be paid for sick days.
"What they are worried about is, this is the only administration I know that could go eight years without negotiating a contract with its blue-collar workers," said former mayor John Street, as protesters began to chant, "We want Street, we want Street."
"I had many, many disruptions during the time I was Council President," Street said. "I always told council members, 'This is the United States of America. It's not Syria, this is not the Middle East. People have a right to come. They have a right to be heard. And, they have a right to disrupt."
Outside of chambers, protesters stretched down the hallways and spilled out onto the sidewalks surrounding City Hall.
Led by a giant rat on a truck, they were escorted by Philadelphia police department officers, on bicycles, around City Hall. Those streets are closed to traffic.
Local 22, the union for city firefighters, has been one of the most vocal and venomous in its tone against the mayor. They've been without a contract for four years.
"The mayor is having problems with so many unions, you've gotta solve some of this fires" Blackwell said. "You can't have everyone against you at one time. Now, he's done more to unify them in solidarity."
Former governor and Philadelphia mayor, Ed Rendell disagrees. "I think the mayor comes out as a sympathetic character." Rendell said protestors didn't further their cause today.
"They embarrassed themselves. I don't think the general public was served at all. That type of behavior is never going to lead to any substance. It makes them look disrespectful."