A protester holds a sign reading "Mayor Bozo" depicting Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as a clown.
It's not every day that the mayor of a major American city is drowned out by protesters and forced from city council chambers. But that's exactly what happened Thursday to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
“It is a little like the President not being able to deliver the State of the Union address and that’s impossible to imagine,” says Zack Stalberg, President and CEO of the Philadelphia-based government watchdog group, Committee of Seventy.
Flanked by Philadelphia Police officers, Nutter was escorted into Philadelphia City Council chambers to deliver his yearly budget address around noon. Union protesters, blowing whistles, waving "Bozo Nutter" signs and chanting, overpowered the mayor's microphone, which was turned up full blast.
After a five minute verbal duel, council went into recess and the mayor left -- eventually finishing the address in another room, with the media and his staff.
Stalberg says in the 62-year history of Philadelphia's current city charter, such a disruption has never played out.
"Going to war with the other side is one thing, and that’s labor negotiation," he said. "Truly disrespecting the person on the other side, that’s a bad practice."
The mayor and city's unions have had a tumultuous relationship for most of his time in office as contract talks have hit dead ends. The issue of paid sick days for all city workers has also added to the fight.
Today's union-inspired ruckus may force Nutter to dig in his heels and fight harder. Stalberg says with Nutter about halfway through his second term and unable run for re-election, he's in a good position to hold firm.
“There are more taxpayers than there are union members," Stalberg said. "There’s a possibility that people view this as completely disrespectful."
Former two-term Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell agrees.
"The one thing he can’t do, he can’t let incidents like this change his mind. He has to stick to his guns. And from what I know of him, way back to the time he used to work for me, I think he will.”
Rendell had his share of labor disputes with the unions. He says it got so bad during his first term, the behavior backfired.
"At one point, when police were escorting me to my car, I got in and they [protesters] surrounded the car and started rocking it back and forth. People went crazy. They were angry with the unions."
Protesters tried to disrupt Nutter last year, but City Council President Darrell Clarke stepped in and shut them down.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘This is my first year as council president, the mayor is coming to my house. We have an obligation to respect him and you have an obligation to respect my house,’” Stalberg said.
This year, Clarke was less effective as he pounded the gavel and asked for silence. Clarke's press secretary Jane Roh, says the protesters were "clearly bent on ignoring him this year."
The fallout, for demonstrators and the city, could be negative public perception, both locally and nationally.
"Philadelphia’s not a city with great self-esteem and when they [people] see that play out on live TV, It’s not good."