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The choice was 'very clear' for Nutter

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The choice was 'very clear' for Nutter

PHILADELPHIA — This city’s mayor, Michael Nutter, has been in office just a little more than 100 days and he hasn’t even had time to hang pictures on the wall of his large, though not grandiose, office yet.

He has been a little busy, what with passing five new gun laws — which the local district attorney says are unconstitutional and she will not enforce — getting the police to “stop, question and frisk” anyone suspected of carrying an illegal weapon on the streets, and, oh, yeah, trying to get Hillary Clinton elected president.

Nutter, an African-American, endorsed Clinton last December. Nutter had unexpectedly won the Democratic primary for mayor the previous May, getting 37 percent of the vote in a five-person field.

Barack Obama had endorsed one of Nutter’s opponents in that primary, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who had looked like he had a pretty good chance of winning early on, but ended up coming in fourth.

“Fattah gave off the impression that he was doing people a favor by being willing to leave Washington to run Philadelphia,” a local political sage told me. “It didn’t play well.”

Nutter, on the other hand, campaigned hard, going into the subway stations early in the mornings and handing out “Nutter Butter” cookies, a somewhat odd choice for a man who carefully watches his diet and health, eating no meat, drinking no caffeine and smoking no cigarettes.

In the general election the former city councilman, 50, won a historic 86 percent of the vote in this heavily Democratic city and his presidential endorsement was sought fervidly by both Clinton and Obama.

“I talked to both personally. Both senators called me; I met with both privately and I talked to both on the phone a couple of times,” Nutter told me. “I was getting to know them and it was a quite unique experience.”

In the end, however, Nutter said the choice was “very clear.”

“Sen. Clinton clearly was the best candidate for cities like Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “She understands the issues that challenge cities and metropolitan areas all across this country.”

Nutter mentioned Clinton’s understanding of issues like crime — Philadelphia had a shocking 406 homicides in 2007, the highest murder rate of any large city in the nation — public education, jobs and mass transit.

“When you have a conversation with her, you know she understands and she knows what she’s talking about,” Nutter said. “She will match up well with John McCain in the fall.”

Philadelphia was about 45 percent white and 43 percent black in the last census and I asked Nutter how much grief he has gotten from Philadelphia’s black community for not endorsing Obama.

“Very little,” he said. “I am not being sarcastic about it, but it actually only comes up in interviews.”

And the fact that Obama endorsed one of your primary opponents had nothing to do with your decision not to endorse him for president?

“I am not saying your question is silly, but the idea is silly that I would base such an important decision on something like that,” Nutter said. “This is America. You can support whomever you want to support. And that’s what I am doing.”

He went on: “And the people of Philadelphia understand that even the mayor gets to make his own choice and selection for who gets to be president. My decision was who would be best for the city as a whole. I now have a responsibility for all one and a half million people here: black, white, Latino, Asian and all different colors under the rainbow.”

Not that Nutter isn’t hedging his bet just slightly. Clinton is leading in the polls in Pennsylvania, but most analysts consider Obama the front-runner for the nomination.

“We’re all good Democrats and at some time point in time we are going to have a Democratic nominee,” Nutter said. “If, some how, some way, it’s going to be Sen. Obama, then I am going to be supporting our Democratic nominee to make him president of the United States.”

Until that time, however, Nutter is going all out for Clinton. “I only know how to engage in campaigns one way,” he said. “It’s 100 percent effort, it’s how I campaigned for myself and when I endorse someone they get the same level of effort.”

And when it’s all over?

“I’m thinking that when it’s over,” Nutter said, “I might have to seek some kind of therapy.”

Him and everybody else.

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