A week after making national headlines for being drowned out by shouting union protesters during his annual budget address, and only days after inspiring national commentary on his request for an investigation into Philadelphia Magazine’s controversial article entitled, “Being White in Philly,” Mayor Michael Nutter was on the banks of the Arno River in Florence, Italy, where he will meet with the growing star of the Italian politics, the Mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, by many indicated as a future Prime Minister.
So what is Mayor Nutter doing in the land of Michelangelo while certain factions of his city are booing him and bearing signs calling him “Mayor Bozo?” Bringing jobs to Philly, he says. As President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Nutter is participating in meetings and panel discussions in Philadelphia’s “Sister City” of Florence with not only other American mayors from South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, and Arizona, but also Italian mayors over a 5-day period.
“Governing is about learning,” Nutter said in an interview between his Florentine meetings Thursday. “It’s about the experiences you pick up. Being able to ask other mayors: ‘How do we best promote the city of Philadelphia, how do we bring industry and jobs to our city?’ Ultimately, this is all about jobs…That’s really what this trip is about. It’s about economics. That is the purpose of this visit.”
The Mayor spent the day talking with liberal and conservative American and Italian mayors about issues that they all face, ranging from tourism and economics, to gun safety and parking. They visited New York University’s campus and spoke with the American students there, collecting ideas. “You don’t read a book about how to be a mayor,” CEO of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Tom Cochran says. “The way you learn how to be a mayor is by talking to other mayors.”
But why meet in Florence? Why not Philadelphia? According to Mayor Nutter, Philadelphia and Florence have been “Sister Cities” since 1964, but he is the first Philadelphia mayor to actually visit his Sister City. Both being the first capitals of their respective countries, one the birthplace of America and the other the birthplace of the Renaissance, and both being rich in the art, history and culture of their countries, Nutter says they have a lot to learn from one another. “In Philadelphia 50,000 people are dependent on art and culture for their livelihood,” and where better to learn how to capitalize on and add to Philadelphia’s cultural assets than one of the biggest tourism cities in the world, Nutter says.
Nutter says that among the lessons of the day was that in order to benefit on its artistic and cultural heritage economically, Philadelphia has to invest more in the arts. “What we’ve learned is that we need to make investment, and unfortunately in tough economic times, sometimes there are cuts and they directly impact the arts,” Nutter says. “We have to counterbalance those inclinations to make those cuts with the realization that you are also negatively impacting the economy.”
“What Mayor Nutter is doing in Florence today is not costing the taxpayers of Philadelphia one cent,” his spokesperson Cochran says. And as for the city’s annual dues to the Conference of Mayors that come out to be $46,569, Nutter says that’s standard practice for all cities. “We’re members of other organizations too. It’s just what cities do,” Nutter says. “Funeral directors have conventions, sheriffs have conventions, why can’t mayors get together and say, ‘What are you doing about the homeless? What are you doing about parking? How are you growing your economy? Women’s rights?’” Cochran said about the purpose of the mayors meeting.
And as for Nutter’s impression of his Sister City: “Florence seems like a very lively, vibrant city with culture and history – like Philadelphia. It certainly looks beautiful. I just haven’t seen much of it. I’ve been in meetings,” he says.
Before he goes back to Philadelphia on Sunday, Nutter will be meeting Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi. “Sister City relationships are what you make them,” Nutter says. “It’s about business relationships, it’s about educational, cultural and medical research exchange, and business opportunities for Philadelphia-based businesses. Those are the ties and the relationships that I am trying to create.”