A week after making national headlines for being drowned out by shouting union protesters during his annual budget address, and only days after inspiring national commentary on his request for an investigation into Philadelphia Magazine’s controversial article entitled, “Being White in Philly,” Mayor Michael Nutter was on the banks of the Arno River in Florence, Italy.
So what is Mayor Nutter doing in the land of Michelangelo while certain factions of his city are booing him and bearing signs calling him “Mayor Bozo?”
Bringing jobs to Philly, he says.
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As President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Nutter is participating in meetings and panel discussions in Philadelphia’s “Sister City” of Florence with not only other American mayors from South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, and Arizona, but also Italian mayors over a 5-day period.
“Governing is about learning,” Nutter said in an interview between his Florentine meetings Thursday.
“It’s about the experiences you pick up. Being able to ask other mayors: ‘How do we best promote the city of Philadelphia, how do we bring industry and jobs to our city?’ Ultimately, this is all about jobs…That’s really what this trip is about. It’s about economics. That is the purpose of this visit.”
The Mayor spent the day talking with liberal and conservative American and Italian mayors about issues that they all face, ranging from tourism and economics, to gun safety and parking. They visited New York University’s campus and spoke with the American students there, collecting ideas.
“You don’t read a book about how to be a mayor,” CEO of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Tom Cochran says. “The way you learn how to be a mayor is by talking to other mayors.”
But why meet in Florence? Why not Philadelphia?
According to Mayor Nutter, Philadelphia and Florence have been “Sister Cities” since 1964, but he is the first Philadelphia mayor to actually visit his Sister City.
Both being the first capitals of their respective countries, one the birthplace of America and the other the birthplace of the Renaissance, and both being rich in the art, history and culture of their countries, Nutter says they have a lot to learn from one another.
“In Philadelphia 50,000 people are dependent on art and culture for their livelihood,” and where better to learn how to capitalize on and add to Philadelphia’s cultural assets than one of the biggest tourism cities in the world, Nutter says.
Nutter says that among the lessons of the day was that in order to benefit on its artistic and cultural heritage economically, Philadelphia has to invest more in the arts.
“What we’ve learned is that we need to make investment, and unfortunately in tough economic times, sometimes there are cuts and they directly impact the arts,” Nutter says. “We have to
counterbalance those inclinations to make those cuts with the realization that you are also negatively impacting the economy.”
But talking about investing in the arts may be a hard pill to swallow for the union members outraged by the lack of contracts. Nutter says though the unions were protesting the lack of contracts, they weren’t protesting his budget. He says that his budget does not make any significant cuts and is investing more in many areas of the city.
“We’re actually investing additional dollars in our parks and recreation, in our libraries, in our computer centers, in our community college. It’s an investment budget,” Nutter says. “So folks
weren’t there to protest the budget. They were there protesting about their own interests, which was contracts. The rest of the public will actually be very positive about the budget that I’ve put forward.”
“We are still in the aftermath of the recession, so we still have to be very aware of our fiscal constraints. There are still many things that I’d like to do that I can’t do or can’t do at the level that I
want to because we still don’t have the dollars,” Nutter says. “We’ve actually seen a 3 percent increase in tax revenues in the past year or so. So we’re slowly climbing out of [the recession], but we’re being very cautious.”
And as for the trip to Italy?
“What Mayor Nutter is doing in Florence today is not costing the taxpayers of Philadelphia one cent,” Cochran says.
And as for the city’s annual dues to the Conference of Mayors that come out to be $46,569, Nutter says that’s standard practice for all cities.
“We’re members of other organizations too. It’s just what cities do,” Nutter says.
“Funeral directors have conventions, sheriffs have conventions, why can’t mayors get together and say, ‘What are you doing about the homeless? What are you doing about parking? How are you growing your economy? Women’s rights?’” Cochran said about the purpose of the mayors meeting.
And as for Nutter’s impression of his Sister City:
“Florence seems like a very lively, vibrant city with culture and history – like Philadelphia. It certainly looks beautiful. I just haven’t seen much of it. I’ve been in meetings,” he says.
Before he goes back to Philadelphia on Sunday, Nutter will be meeting Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi.
“Sister City relationships are what you make them,” Nutter says. “It’s about business relationships, it’s about educational, cultural and medical research exchange, and business opportunities for
Philadelphia-based businesses. Those are the ties and the relationships that I am trying to create.”