Michael Nutter is a well-liked mayor. When he walks onstage to open the 2009 World Irish Dancing Championships at Philadelphia, someone from the crowd yells, “hello, Michael,” and when he tells jokes, the audience whoops and laughs. His biggest joke is about the economy. “Please, shop a great deal,” he suggests, rather innocently, recommending Philadelphia’s restaurants and department stores to the international audience of grown-ups and kids.
The World Irish Dancing Championships is bringing 6,000 competitors and 15,000 fans to Philadelphia, and the event is expected to generate more than $11 million in revenue. Philadelphia does not impose taxes on clothes or shoes, and this should make it an even bigger shopping attraction. “We’re excited. It’s a great boost for our economy,” Nutter says later, sitting in the green room. “It brings international recognition to Philadelphia, which is a great, international city. And it generates a lot of attention for Philadelphia in Ireland. You can’t compare it with anything else.”
Shopping aside, there are other reasons why Philadelphia is a good spot to hold the competition. It’s a diverse place, the mayor said. “This enables Philadelphians to learn so much about other people and other traditions.” Participants at the World Dancing contest should learn a lot too. They come from 32 different countries, and at the opening ceremony three different national anthems were sung – the US, Irish, and Canadian.
Philadelphia has one of the largest concentrations of Irish people in the U.S., and people of Irish heritage have always played a strong part in the city. “Irish Americans in Philadelphia have prominence in political life, in civic life and in business life,” he said. “They’re an integral part of the lifeblood of the city.”
Mayor Nutter, a Democrat, has never visited Ireland (although he says he’d like to go); nor does he have Irish roots. On one day of the year, he becomes an honorary member of the Irish community however. On St. Patrick’s day he’s no longer Michael Nutter. With a smile he says, “On St. Patrick’s day I’m referred to as Michael O’Nutter.”