About an hour before Mayor Michael Nutter took the stage at the "Reclaiming Vacant Properties" conference today, his campaign sent out an invitation for a fundraiser at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Tickets ranged from $1,000 to $5,000 with artsy contribution levels including "Cezanne" ($5,000) and Renoir ($2,500), offering a window into the mayor's perspective of the French impressionists.
But, what is this money for? Despite years of speculation that Nutter would try a run at state or national office, his bruising school and union battles have prompted new rumors that this will be the mayor's last fundraiser. Ever.
Dreams of higher office appear to have vanished, and, according to City Hall insiders, Nutter needs money just to finish out what has already turned out to be an intensely politicized term. While long famed for the ample war chest he built during his early career as the city's reform sweetheart, Nutter has burnt through nearly all of his cash. What amounted to nearly $2 million as he geared up for re-election at the end of 2010, had dwindled to a little over $66,000 at the beginning of this year.
It seems that while Nutter coasted to an easy re-election victory in 2011, he still spent a lot of money doing it, over $1.5 million in fact. Such is the cost of politics, even for an solid incumbent, but Nutter has spent almost every dollar he's taken in since. Besides routine campaign operation costs (and an apparently lavish $127,000 inaugural ceremony) the money has almost all gone towards buying influence, via political contributions and consultancies. Nutter's campaign donated nearly $29,000 to various politicians and union groups in the run up to last year's primary. In their last disclosure, the campaign listed $25,000 in expenses, $18,500 of which went to two different political consultants: Lindsey Perry of Perry Consulting and Brian Donlen of Bread and Circus Media.
But that will only go so far. Nutter is staring down more than two years left in office — a political eon — and doesn't have a lot of cash to push through an agenda that has attracted increasingly fierce opposition. Perry, who sent out the invite under the "Nutter for Mayor" banner and advertises herself as a "political fundraiser", did not respond to requests for comment today.
Unfortunately for Nutter, It may be harder than ever for him to generate the kind of cash he saw in his golden days, when big money donors opened their wallets for a bookish reformer that represented an easy alternative to tainted mayoral hopefuls like Bob Brady. Those days are are gone, and the mayor has since gained a reputation as an arrogant and increasingly isolated technocrat. One source close to City Hall said simply, "[Nutter] is not an easy politician to get folks to give to".
If Nutter wants to avoid a future as a cash-poor lame duck, he better hope his "last" fundraiser is a doozy. Or, he could try to start making more friends in City Council.
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