Day of emotions as Philly buries officer

By Charisse Jones

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — In a clash of hope and grief, this city awoke Wednesday to a new mayor and a funeral for a police officer whose slaying capped a recent spasm of gun violence.

Thousands of Philadelphians and police officers from across the Northeast waited to enter the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul to pay their respects to officer Chuck Cassidy, who died last week after being shot during a robbery at a Dunkin' Donuts.

Televisions throughout the sanctuary flashed images from Cassidy's life, and projection screens were set up in the chapel and across the street from the cathedral to allow an overflow crowd to view the service.

Cassidy, 54, was one of three Philadelphia law enforcement officers shot in four days. The other two officers survived, but the crimes' brazenness shocked this city. A suspect in Cassidy's death was arrested in Miami on Tuesday.

Among Cassidy's mourners Wednesday was Michael Nutter, a 15-year City Council veteran who won election as mayor Tuesday and will take office Jan. 7.

"People have become fearful," said Nutter, 50. "They're actually unnerved and a lot of that comes as a result of the events of last week. … People are asking themselves, almost quietly in Philadelphia, what has happened to us?"

Philadelphians sometimes feel forgotten living between New York City and Washington and need a boost of self-esteem, Nutter said. One of his first orders of business will be a citywide cleanup effort that will enlist city workers and thousands of residents.

"Litter is a mindset," Nutter said. "It's an attitude that we have about ourselves, about our community and about each other. … A clean city is a safer city."

A plea for civic pride

On Wednesday, he reiterated the need for Philadelphians to take pride in themselves.

"We need to get over ourselves at a certain level and stop being so envious of other places," he told hundreds of business leaders. "We are not Boston. We are not New York. We are not D.C. We are not Chicago. We are not San Francisco, Atlanta, Orlando or anything else. We are Philadelphia, and we need to be proud of it."

The nation's sixth-most-populous city is one of contrasts. New condominiums are filling with empty nesters and young professionals flocking back to the city. At the same time, Philadelphia has steadily lost population, dropping from 1,585,577 in 1990 to 1,448,394 in 2006. Last year, 19.6% of its families were living below the poverty line. The number of homicides is keeping pace with last year's, which totaled 406.

Nutter initially was an underdog in a May Democratic primary that included two members of Congress. After a corruption scandal during the tenure of outgoing Mayor John Street, Nutter's record as a crusader who championed ethics reform and campaign-finance limits propelled him to victory in the primary and Tuesday's general election, political observers say.

"All local elections are about crime, education, but this one increasingly was centered on cleaning up government," said Randall Miller, a political analyst and history professor at Saint Joseph's University. "That played into Nutter's message. … He got a credibility, and with that, visibility and validity because that became the centerpiece of discussion."

Crime, however, still looms large for many Philadelphians.

Julie Stapleton Carroll, founder of a charter school in the city's Germantown neighborhood, vividly remembers the January day that she heard the crackle of gunfire as she picked her son up from a local recreation center. "All of a sudden you hear, 'boom, boom, boom,' " said Carroll, 43, a mother of three. "That event certainly changed my attitude about how close violence is to me."

The city has experienced higher murder totals in the past, such as 503 killings in 1990, but there is a randomness to the current violence that is particularly unsettling, she said. "Before, it was crack cocaine," she said. "You could put your finger on something as the cause of it. It seems now, you get mad at someone and you shoot them."

Helping ex-offenders

Nutter says he will address "the human side of crime. … If we're really serious about reducing the crime rate in Philadelphia, we have to deal with the ex-offender population, because those are the individuals most likely to be either victims or perpetrators of crime."

Nutter said he will give any business that hires an ex-offender a $10,000 tax credit for up to three years and also will offer training and other services for those returning from prison.

During the summer, Nutter visited several cities, including Baltimore, Chicago and New York, to cull ideas and information. "I want us as Philadelphians to open our minds to new ideas and new strategies, a different way of doing things," he said.

Some civic leaders express concerns about his moving from being a political lone wolf to the central player in local government.

"The biggest question about Nutter is can he move from being a maverick (City Council member) with a small staff to a guy who's managing 30,000 city employees and a budget of about $4 billion," said Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan group that pushes clean elections and government.

"He's got all the intellectual skills," he said. "The issue is … does he have the managerial skills to pick the right people and put together a team and really have an effect on some of these problems."

Nutter says he's up to the challenge: "I am a change agent. That's what I do. We're about to start the renaissance of Philadelphia. … This will be the greatest turnaround of any major city in the United States of America in the last 50 years."

Copyright 2007 The USA Today

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