Things got tense between former Mayor Michael Nutter and Jeff Brown
Nutter hammered Brown — who’s never held public office — on a number of city processes and policies during a recent interview.
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Philadelphia’s mayoral race got a civics lesson from former mayor Michael Nutter, who, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, questioned Jeff Brown, a candidate, on the city’s Home Rule Charter, governing boards, and municipal funding.
Nutter’s line of questioning was part of a series of job interviews hosted by the Philadelphia Citizen, which interviewed mayoral candidates Jeff Brown and Maria Quiñones Sánchez in separate panels to avoid tense exchanges and alleviate voters from “horse race” coverage, as the panelist described it.
Kicking off the interview was Brown, who spoke at length about his leadership qualities in relation to his franchise, ShopRite, from relationships with store-level employees to his decision-making process in the executive room.
Brown, 58, is ShopRite’s top executive and operates 10 stores between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in addition to two Fresh Grocer stores in the state.
“It's an incredibly complex and global business,” responding to initial questions about what qualifies him to run the city of Philadelphia, in contrast with his own business. He added his work with the Wakefern Food Corporation, a food cooperative and the fourth largest of its kind in the U.S.
“And so, I have quite a bit of experience of running a very large complex and unionized business, or when leadership style standpoint, it's all about picking the right team, the people that report to you will help you execute,” he said.
Nutter, one of three panelists, was last in line to pose questions and was also the independent arbiter for the candidates and got to choose more favorable interviewers for the first 26 minutes of questions, with 13 minutes allotted to each guest.
The candidate’s answers were timed.
The first few questions touched on Brown’s upbringing, the kind of incentives he’s leveraged while scaling his business, and whether he was a legacy grocery store owner. Brown did not inherit the grocery he currently operates, though he is a fourth-generation grocer.
Responding to Nutter’s question about legacy, Brown used an anecdote about a West Philly store run by his father, of which, according to Brown, Nutter’s parents were patrons.
“I'm not so sure about that. We should probably not discuss that here because they don't live anywhere to your stores, but you’ll want to move on,” Nutter returned and proceeded to the next question.
The exchange struck a chord with the audience, reacting with a mix of surprised chuckles and chatter.
Nutter, who served as mayor for two terms prior to Jim Kenney, grilled Brown — who has no government experience — over government affairs, beginning with his advisory board.
Two years ago, Brown said, he enlisted former Philly mayor John Street and a Columbia Ph.D. student to advise his initial campaign. Just weeks ago, Street endorsed Rebecca Rhynhart for mayor and is closely working with her campaign.
Recent campaign finance reports revealed that the Rhynhart campaign paid Street $22,000 for his services.
The height of the exchange began when Nutter asked whether Brown had read the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, which outlines the municipal code that governs the city.
The Home Rule Charter, for example, dictates that City Councilmembers must resign before pursuing another office in the city, which is why so many vacancies arose over the latter half of 2022, prompting City Council President Darrell Clarke to call Special Elections to fill those seats.
Candidates endorsed by party ward leaders still needed to get the votes in November, but it was practically a shoo-in for the four that won. Those elected through Special Election must run again in the primary in 2023.
Brown had not read the document but said in his initial responses that Street and the Ph.D. student went over the document with him four times, but Nutter asked if “he (Brown)” had read it.
Asked what the sinking fund was, “it’s where you put money away for a problem you might have in the future.” To which Nutter responded: “That’s the rainy day fund. Sinking fund is for debt service.”
Continuing his line of questioning, Nutter asked what the administrative board was, and Brown asked if he was referring to PICA, or the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a body that oversees the city’s finances.
“PICA’s PICA,” Nutter said.
“I don’t know,” Brown answered.
“The administrative board is the mayor, the managing director, and the finance director,” Nutter said.
“They take up, in many instances, personnel-related issues, as well as if we're going to change classifications for public employees. So all of those matters, they come through the administrative board,” he added.
Then, Nutter pivoted to the city’s sanitation. What felt like a preface to a question resulted in another tense exchange between a veteran mayor and aspiring mayor.
Nutter spoke about the complex workforce issues during the pandemic and said the trash that wasn’t cleared was the result of a reduced workforce, alluding to recent commercials aired by Brown’s campaign about the city’s ongoing sanitation issue.
Brown, who received a historic endorsement from the city’s largest municipal union, pushed back against Nutter’s claim and said he “never said the workers were involved,” pointing to leadership issues.
After a brief spar, Nutter closed his turn by asking Brown what he would do on his first day in office.
“I'd like to sign an executive order to tell the police to notify all the abandoned cars removal or retake them and melt them now. We'll use the money from that to pay for the cost, and it would be a big step forward,” Brown said, citing earlier efforts by John Street.
“The whole day?” Nutter asked.
Brown, continuing his response, said the city had not involved the philanthropic community, “and I think the first week, we'd have some exciting announcements to show some real progress.”
After Brown’s turn ended, the panelist commended Brown, a private citizen, for joining the mayoral race.
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