Northeast Times

Editorial: Once and done

The pan­de­moni­um that erup­ted at City Coun­cil when May­or Nut­ter tried to de­liv­er his an­nu­al budget mes­sage last week gave us all a front-row view of polit­ic­al theat­er at its raw­est. The script went this way:

Act I: The may­or strides to a po­di­um dec­or­ated with a small Amer­ic­an flag and be­gins by hon­or­ing a mu­ni­cip­al staffer for his ef­fort. But the whistles and chants pour­ing down from the bal­cony of the or­nate Coun­cil Cham­ber make it im­possible for any­one present to hear a word he says. Uni­on mem­bers, in­clud­ing city fire­fight­ers, who are angry about work­ing without con­tracts drown him out.

Un­daun­ted, the may­or re­fuses to stop: “I have noth­ing but the deep­est re­spect for the thou­sands of pub­lic em­ploy­ees who work on be­half of a mil­lion and a half Phil­adelphi­ans. You want a fair con­tract and so do I. But a fair con­tract must bal­ance the in­terests of hard-work­ing tax­pay­ers and our ded­ic­ated em­ploy­ees.”

The chor­us in the bal­cony rises to fever pitch.

 At this point, Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke, stand­ing be­hind Nut­ter, pulls the trap door and ac­cepts a mo­tion to re­cess coun­cil. May­or Nut­ter seems to be among the last to know.

After talk­ing to Clarke, Nut­ter re­turns to the po­di­um and con­tin­ues his speech as coun­cil mem­bers, who know polit­ic­al roadkill when they see it, file out of the cham­ber. Nut­ter fi­nally gives up the ghost, but not be­fore say­ing these fi­nal words: “We, as a city, have to come to­geth­er.”

Act II: The may­or re­tires to his bone-quiet re­cep­tion  room and de­liv­ers his budget mes­sage to 20 people on his staff. They greet the boss with a stand­ing ova­tion.

Pos­sible Act III: Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Clarke says he in­tends to get dir­ectly in­volved in con­tract talks. He says  he re­cessed the coun­cil meet­ing be­cause he had been told some uni­on mem­bers were pre­pated to be ar­res­ted.

“I think that the worst thing that could hap­pen is to have the po­lice come in in force and ar­rest a group of mu­ni­cip­al work­ers who are simply try­ing to get a con­tract.” 

It’s fair to say uni­on mem­bers achieved what they set out to do.  They humbled a stub­born may­or on a ce­re­mo­ni­al day. They also suc­ceeded in put­ting the an­ger and frus­tra­tion they feel about work­ing without con­tracts out there — front and cen­ter — for all Phil­adelphi­ans to see.

Now, it’s time to pull the cur­tain down on high-drama per­form­ances by both sides and get back to the hard busi­ness of mak­ing real pro­gress on con­tract talks with the three city uni­ons. 

Open minds and civil dia­logue can lead to com­mon ground. Leave the pop­corn be­hind. ••  

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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