A Letter to Michael Nutter

Dear Mayor Nutter:

Today there will be a press conference where the Black Clergy and others will announce the intention to file for an injunction against you and the City, because it is illegal for you to close libraries in the way in which you did it. No one wants to sue the Mayor. But, despite the promises of openness, transparency, and listening, that is where we appear to be as a City, with citizens' hopes riding on the backs of lawyers.

The lawsuit will not actually be filed today though, because, when we are still only months from your feel good inauguration, people want to give you the chance to avoid all of this, to show that you are listening, and to show that you are enough of a leader to be willing to listen to your outraged constituents, and to change course.

Mike, I feel bad for you. While I might argue that you and your budget team screwed up by not preparing us for a recession in March, the bottom line is that you have been stuck in a terrible situation with an unenviable task. But in a way, haven’t the fights over budget cuts made you feel better about Philadelphia? You always argued for transparency in government, right? It always seemed like open government was relegated to the concerns of nerds like me (and you), but yet, in these community town-halls, one of the biggest things that clearly bothers people is that this whole thing was done behind closed-doors, leaving the public out. The process to which you long advocated actually appears to have widespread support.

Not only that, but think about what it says for the potential of our city, and the inherent goodness and desires of its people, when there are entire communities marching, protesting and showing up to these town halls, all to stop libraries from closing. Libraries! People across all kinds of communities are willing to fight for the power to read, and for a safe, quiet place for their children to be educated. Imagine what could happen if, as the Mayor of our City, you harnessed that energy…

The reality is that many more budget cuts are coming next year, right? You might think that next year, you will try and deal with an additional painful round of budget cuts by engaging people, when there is more time for deliberation. But that process will depend on people trusting that you are listening. It won’t happen, when, with one loud voice, Philadelphians have asked you not to permanently close libraries, and you have insisted that you will do so anyway.

And yet, there is still some hope. You could still be the Mayor who brought more citizens into the process than anyone. You could still be the Mayor who helped us make painful decisions, but also showed that he was really listening to public outcry. You could still be the Mayor who transforms what our government looks like, and what Philadelphians expect from it.

But to do all of that, we need to see that you are listening and willing to change course.

Are you?

Thanks for reading.

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