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Mayoral candidate Michael Nutter interview at his office on s. 15th street. Credit: Taylor Howard

Michael Nutter is, in many respects, the ultimate Penn candidate for mayor.

One of the University's own, Nutter graduated from the Wharton School in 1979 and held a position on City Council from 1991 to 2006.

As councilman, he supported measures with appeal to the Penn community, including the smoking ban in most city restaurants and an amendment to the city charter in favor of ethics reform.

And Nutter is primarily running on his experience in local government; he notes that while others have plans for the city, he has spent his career learning how the city works and trying to fix its problems.

Nutter has consistently portrayed himself as the competent technocrat of city politics, not beholden to the corrupting influences that have so tarnished many of his fellow colleagues, from former Councilman Rick Mariano - now serving time for corruption - to current Mayor John Street, whose office was bugged by the FBI during a narcotics investigation several years ago.

And what's more, he roots for the Red and Blue in Big 5 matchups.

So it came as no surprise when the Penn Democrats endorsed him as their candidate Feb. 12.

"A lot of members of this organization have seen Michael Nutter, and they've been very impressed," Penn Democrats president and Wharton sophomore Clayton Robinson said at the time.

Robinson and other students were impressed by the near encyclopedic knowledge Nutter has on city politics.

In an interview, Nutter was able to muster an impressive command of numbers and statistics gained from his years on Council while laying out a comprehensive vision for lowering the crime rate and improving the city's economic and fiscal health.

On the other hand, Nutter has spurred controversy with his desire to declare a crime emergency in certain dangerous areas - allowing police to stop and frisk pedestrians whom they deem a threat - in response to a spiraling murder rate, which had reached 108 as of last evening, up from 94 at the same time last year.

He also wants to keep graduates of universities like Penn here after college by attracting businesses to the city by a reduction in the business privilege tax.

"We educate the world, [but] we've got problems holding onto" college graduates, Nutter said at a forum held by the Urban League of Philadelphia April 9. "We have to harness . that knowledge base."

The problem for Nutter, though, is that he just doesn't seem to be resonating with voters.

He has consistently trailed behind frontrunners Tom Knox and Chaka Fattah and has now fallen behind Bob Brady, polling at 12 percent in the latest Daily News Keystone poll.

Critics point to Nutter's reputation of being aloof and somewhat wooden in front of audiences and not being able to appeal to black voters.

He seems to do better at the plethora of mayoral forums being held this election cycle and in smaller groups, where his dry wit usually elicits laughs.

Still, the problem remains that most voters will only see the candidates through their television advertisements.

Nutter and ad expert Neil Oxman rolled out the campaign's first ad several weeks ago, in which Nutter attacks Street's leadership and promises to do better.

"I'm running against the things [Street's] done wrong," Nutter says.

Critics, however, think it's troubling that Nutter is turning his campaign into a referendum against Street since the current mayor isn't up for reelection.

About this series: This week, the 'DP' will profile each of the five mayoral candidates battling for the Democratic nomination on May 15.

Read profiles of mayoral candidates Dwight Evans and Tom Knox.

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