He’s pushing African Americans to work with him by staying in school, being active parents and cracking down on crime in their own communities.
It’s a message that has gotten him in trouble in the past — yet he persists.
“I’m trying to get people to recognize that there are some real issues in the Black community,” he said. “Some of these things we have to clean up ourselves. Stop shooting each other. Stop hurting your kids.”
In a candid interview with the Tribune editorial board on Tuesday, Nutter, with his trademark dry humor and a passion rarely seen in public, outlined his plans for a second term.
He faces several other candidates on Tuesday: Republican Karen Brown and two independents Wali Diop Rahman and Meighan Dorr — both running write in campaigns.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” he noted at the start of the meeting, though it’s unlikely he’ll lose.
Clearly the favorite, he is expected to win by a large margin.
His second term is likely to be dominated by the same issues that overtook his first one – the economy, the city’s education crisis and crime.
“I work in world where I never have the luxury of just working on one thing,” he replied when asked his top priority. “There is no number one thing in my world. It’s about jobs. It’s about education. It’s about crime. It’s about integrity.”
There has been another issue percolating the background of Nutter’s tenure — race.
From the start, critics — very often Black — cried foul over policies ranging from “stop and frisk” to service cuts. Nutter’s dogged persistence and deliberate campaign to listen the concerns of constituents dampened that criticism toward the middle of his term. But, it’s re-emerged lately, after a scathing speech Nutter gave in August in the wake of a series of flash mobs and the administration’s new curfew.
“The mayor made this about race,” said Adan Diaz, a curfew opponent, noting that Nutter in August speech blasted Black youth and their families for “damaging their race.”
For Nutter it’s less about race and more about dealing with a crisis that is eating away at the city he loves, a city where 43 percent of the population is Black.
“We got all kinds of –isms out there,” he said. “But, somewhere in the midst of all that we have to find a way to be successful.”
The first step is to recognize the problem.
“The first way you solve a problem is admitting there is a problem,” he said. “In virtually every category measurable, in good areas African-American males are in the bottom. In bad areas African-American males are at the top. It’s just facts. I can’t, for fear of being criticized, ignore those facts.”
He hopes his plans to focus on education and violence will benefit his African-American constituents.
“I’m increasingly spending more and more of my time on education and on public safety. Those two are the toughest,” he said. “Those two areas will have the greatest impact or the most negative impact on what’s going on in the African-American community in this city.”
The violence – much of which is Black on Black – is baffling to the mayor; as is the silence of the community.
“The level of violence in this city … is off the charts as it relates to African-American men,” he said. “If this were going on in the 1950s in the South. We’d be having a whole different discussion. The fact that 72 percent of the homicide victims in this city are African-American males – silence.”
He’s decided to speak out and keep speaking out.
“Quite frankly it damages us, specifically Black males. It’s all that potential either dead or locked up, which will never see the light of day, which will never discover anything, which will never do anything. Never see their kids. I don’t know when Black folks stopped thinking education was important,” he said. “The only way you’re going to make it in this life is with an education.”
“Most of the folks we arrest are high school drop outs,” he said. “All of these things are connected.”
Education will is also the key to turning around the city’s economy. Nutter estimated the city’s unemployment rate is closer to 40 percent in some neighborhoods, well above the official rate of 10.6 percent.
“The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is significantly lower. If we have a better educated workforce the jobs will come,” he said. “Business will be here. People want to be in an environment where you have skilled, educated workforce ready to go to work.”
And to those who would ignore the problems of the Black community, Nutter argued that what affects African-Americans affect everyone.
“It affects all of us,” he said, his voice rising. “It tears at the fabric of this city.”
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