Offering somewhat vague promises about making city government more open and more willing to work with social service agencies, a confident Michael Nutter, the Democratic nominee for Philadelphia mayor, met last week with representatives from a number of Jewish organizations.
At the Aug. 9 meeting held at the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City, the former city councilman — who won a five-way Democratic primary in May, and is expected to defeat Republican Al Taubenberger in November — fielded a host of questions on issues ranging from the city's energy strategy to how to make Philadelphia a more welcoming place for immigrants.
"I think the city is on the verge of taking off in a very new direction," said Nutter. "We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but we also have a lot of opportunities."
Taubenberger is expected to meet with Jewish community officials this week.
'A Lot of Money'
Jim Rosenstein, president of the American Jewish Committee Philadelphia Chapter, pressed Nutter on his plan's to reduce the city's energy consumption. The candidate responded that, if elected, he plans to create a Sustainability Cabinet. He would direct the heads of city agencies to come up with ways to save energy and protect the environment.
According to Nutter, the City of Philadelphia spends roughly $100 million a year on electricity. He said that through energy management and building performance analysis, the city can cut costs by 10 percent.
"Where I grew up in West Philadelphia, $10 million is a lot of money," he said.
Nutter also pledged to expand the city's recycling program: "We have a 6 percent recycling rate, which is embarrassing."
Burt Siegel, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, asked Nutter how he plans to approach the issue of violent crime in the city.
During the primary, Nutter received attention and criticism for his proposals to declare several troubled city neighborhoods "targeted enforcement zones."
In those neighborhoods, police would have the power to, among other things, stop and frisk anyone they suspected of carrying a gun.
But in response to the query, Nutter focused on a softer aspect of his plan. "The best anti-crime program is a job program — if you can put people back to work and increase their skill levels," he explained. "The overwhelming majority of people involved in violent crime have a criminal record. If we do not get a majority of our employers to recognize that if you don't allow people to go to work just because they have a previous criminal record, you are condemning them to a life of crime and violence."
To that end, Nutter proposed a $10,000 business tax credit to employers who hire an individual with a criminal record. The University of Pennsylvania graduate argued that it costs the city $25,000 a year to incarnate someone, so a $10,000 enticement is good fiscal sense.
In discussing social policy, Nutter said that the city needs to make better use of its retirees and senior citizens. He proposed establishing a senior volunteer corps, where older Philadelphians could mentor youths or single parents, as well as contribute to other civic endeavors.
Judith Bernstein-Baker, executive director of HIAS and Council Migration Service, asked Nutter how low-cost housing could be made available to refugees resettling in Philadelphia.
Nutter replied that the lack of affordable housing is a growing problem in the city, but he did not provide many specifics about how to remedy the issue. He said a perception exists among certain immigrant groups that other major urban centers, such as New York and Chicago, are generally more friendly to immigrants than Philadelphia.
The mayoral hopeful said that he supports the establishment of an Office of New Philadelphians, and that he would push to have the city print important literature and official forms in at least 12 languages.
"It's one of the ways we can show that we are very serious about welcoming people to Philadelphia," he remarked. "It's hard to feel welcome if you can't read the materials."