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Philly Mayor Michael Nutter Thinks Local At DNC


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, there are a lot of college ranking guides out there, but we're going to tell you about one of them that says it rates colleges and universities on their value to you and to the country. That's ahead.

But first, we're following the Democratic convention in Charlotte, and while the spotlight is on national debates during the convention, we remember that old saying that all politics is local.

Last week, we spoke with Scott Smith, the mayor of Mesa, Arizona. He led the Republican delegation of mayors at that party's convention. This week, Philadelphia's mayor, Michael Nutter, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is doing the same for Democrats in Charlotte. He's scheduled to address the convention tonight.

Mayor Nutter joined us earlier from Radio Row at the convention in Charlotte, and you'll be able to hear all the activity around him. Mr. Mayor, welcome. Welcome back to the program.

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER: Michel, it is so great to - so great just to hear your voice and thanks for the opportunity and thanks for covering the Democratic National Convention.

MARTIN: As the president of the Conference of Mayors, I assume that you're in touch with mayors all over the country. What are you hearing...


MARTIN: ...from them?

NUTTER: What the mayors care about is - how can I get money to invest in the infrastructure in my city? How do we put people back to work, lower the unemployment rate, provide for job training programs? How do we make class sizes smaller and make investments in our children from an education standpoint?

So mayors across the country - Democrat, Republican, really doesn't matter - mostly care about the same things. We really do generate the economy of the United States of America. About 90 percent of the GDP in America is generated in cities, 80 percent of the population, 85 percent of the jobs. And so cities are important and mayors get the job done, much like the president, who's an executive, is trying to do at the national level.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, though, Republicans say that the critical question of this election is, are you - and is the country - better off than we were four years ago? How are you answering that question when people put it to you?

NUTTER: Well, yeah. I understand they'd like to ask that question. I think the real issue is what the president has done in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Let us not forget, shortly after the president finished taking the oath of office, that month, we lost 700,000 jobs. What we can now say is that we've had 29 straight months of job growth, 4.4 million jobs created. The president took the stand that he was going to save the auto industry. Mitt Romney said, let it die.

And so we can't even imagine how much worse things would have been but for the strong actions that the president has taken. He deserves reelection and the opportunity to finish what he has already started and to lead us through the recovery.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter. He's also the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and in that role he's leading the delegation of Democratic mayors at this convention meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. He's scheduled to speak to the convention delegates today.

A lot's changed in four years, Mr. Mayor. As you know, Pennsylvania - the political landscape in Pennsylvania is one of those things that's changed. Unlike in 2008, it now has a Republican governor, who you can assume will be mobilizing aggressively on behalf of his candidate. What does the president do to speak to those voters?

NUTTER: Well, sure. A couple things have changed since 2008. Not only do we have a Republican governor, but both houses of the general assembly, the House and the Senate, are Republican as well. And so Pennsylvania, one of the most diverse states in the United States of America, is the place where the president is paying attention, he and his team and those of us surrogates and other elected officials out as the ground troops.

This is about message. It's about mobilizing. We have voter ID challenges that we're dealing with to make sure that everyone has the necessary ID so that they can go and vote and, again, mobilize the base, get people out to vote on election day. And I feel very, very confident that the president will not only do tremendously well in Philadelphia, but ultimately wins Pennsylvania, which is a part of the roadmap back to the White House.

MARTIN: Why are you so convinced of that? Why are you so comfortable with that? And I do want to mention again that the voter ID law of which you spoke - we've covered that on this program - this is something that Republicans are saying is necessary to combat voter fraud, but other critics, including the NAACP, say its real objective is to stifle those who tend to vote for Democrats, including the elderly, including, of course, African-Americans.

So you know, how are you addressing that?

NUTTER: Well, on that one point, though, you know, the proponents say that it's necessary to stop voter fraud, but they admitted shortly before the case went to trial in commonwealth court that they had no documented evidence of even one case of in-person voter fraud. And we'll deal with those issues and I'm working very, very hard in the city and there's a Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition dealing with that issue, but...

MARTIN: To do what? I mean, to do what? What are you going to do?

NUTTER: To make - what we're going to do is make sure that the folks that you talked about who run the risk of being disenfranchised, people of color, senior citizens, those in nursing homes and students, and many, many others - what we're working to make sure is that everyone has the ID that they need and, quite frankly, Michel, there are any number of folks who are so upset about what has happened that there's actually a lot more talk about the election, about voting and about what's at stake here than you might normally find in the summer leading into Labor Day.

So this whole thing may have actually backfired. But the president has a record and what he has to do and what we have to do as good Democrats is make sure that everyone knows what that record is. It's a record of accomplishment. Obviously want to spend some time with independents and even some Republicans who may not like all the vitriol over on the Republican side. I mean Mitt Romney doubled down. Obviously his credentials, maybe in the conservative wing of the party, which has taken over, were maybe not strong enough and had to reach out to Congressman Paul Ryan, who clearly has a record, wants to change Medicare to a voucher program and any number of other fairly radical proposals from Congressman Ryan.

So Mitt Romney has to embrace those ideas, and I think that Pennsylvanians, when they hear what the choices are, when they hear truly what's at stake, they'll make the right choice and support President Obama for reelection.

MARTIN: Just a couple more questions because I know you're busy. Everybody can hear all the activity around you, even at this early period in...


MARTIN: ...the convention. Something you're dealing with I want to talk about, that Philadelphia has experienced an uptick in violent crime recently, and many of the people on both sides of these interactions are young African-American men. Many of the victims are, many of the perpetrators are.

You know that in 2008 a lot of - there was a lot of talk about whether this president, Barack Obama, given his own stature and identity, could inspire young black men to create a better future for themselves, and I wonder whether you feel is there still that hope - is there any sign that that has been true?

NUTTER: I have not one doubt in my mind that President Obama cares about the issue that you raised, and I certainly spend a lot of time focused on it, working with other mayors, again, across the country in an effort referred to as Cities United. Cities United is focused on the issue of violence in our cities and more narrowly targeted at violence in the African-American community and as it affects African-American men and boys.

I've had numerous conversations and meetings with Attorney General Eric Holder on behalf of the administration to take a more holistic approach to these challenges, and I believe that over the course of the next couple months, we'll be hearing and seeing much more activity around this particular issue.

In terms of the president and his inspirational abilities, I think the people are as excited, and certainly African-Americans and other people of color, and progressives, are as excited about the hope and promise of his presidency, as many of us were at the start.

Your original question was about - you know, can the president inspire young people to do great things? I think so. When they see the increase in Pell Grants that he fought for, nearly 50 percent increase, and working to lower the costs of college education, his investments in historically black colleges and universities. I mean people get to see and know and understand what the true record is here, I think more and more folks will turn to that sense of hope, to aspirations to make life better in cities all across America.

MARTIN: Finally, before we let you go, we've been asking as many of our guests who are willing to entertain this question, what does success mean? I mean, we heard that word a lot last week during the Republican National Convention. Many of the speakers talked about success, wanting the country to be more successful.

What does success mean to you? What does a successful country look like to you?

NUTTER: I think it's a country where the initial premise - and when we talk about, you know, of course Philadelphia, the foundation of freedom, liberty and democracy, I still believe in the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I think that when we have a better educated society, when there is less violence in our cities, when people get back into the workforce and have the opportunity to take care of themselves and their families - that for me really is the kind of success and the kind of America that I think most of us still want, we aspire to. We work hard every day to make sure that people can do the things that America set, which is that you have freedom, that you have liberty, that you have access, that you have openness and that your voice is heard.

And the best way to do that is to be registered to vote and then come out to vote on November 6th.

MARTIN: Michael Nutter is the mayor of Philadelphia. He's also president of the United States Conference of Mayors. In that role he's leading the delegation of Democratic mayors at the convention. He joined us from Radio Row at the Democratic National Convention meeting in Charlotte.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us and best wishes for a successful convention.

NUTTER: Thanks so much, Michel. Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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