Philly Mayor Would Quit Obama Church

Clinton ally tells ABC he would have quit church over pastor's comments.


PHILADELPHIA, March 29, 2008 — -- Sen. Hillary Clinton's most prominent African-American supporter in Pennsylvania says that had he been a member of Sen. Barack Obama's church, he would have left because of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's fiery and controversial sermons.

"I think there's no room for hate, and I could not sit and tolerate that kind of language, and especially over a very long period of time," said Philadelphia's newly elected mayor, Michael Nutter, in an interview with ABC News' David Muir.

"If I were in my own church and heard my pastor saying some of those kinds of things," he added, "we'd have a conversation about what's going on here, what is this all about, and then I would have to make my own personal decision about whether or not to be associated or affiliated."

Asked by Muir if he would he have quit Obama's church, Nutter said, "Absolutely."

Watch a report on Nutter's comments tonight on "World News." Check your local listings for air time.

Wright preached that the U.S brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism." He also said the government "wants us to sing 'God Bless America'" but that it should be "God damn America" for the way it has treated minorities.

Obama condemned the comments, but said he could not "disown" Wright. He suggested the incendiary remarks reflected longstanding anger over past injustices against blacks.

Nutter said, "I think there is a big difference between expressing the pain and anger that many African Americans and other people of color may feel versus language that I think now crosses the line and goes into hate."

Clinton needs a decisive victory in Pennsylvania to keep her White House hopes alive. And Nutter, who took office in January, could play a pivotal role if he is able to help Clinton make inroads with African-American voters, a pillar of Obama's political base.

The pressure on some of Clinton's prominent black supporters to abandon her has been intense. An icon of the civil rights movement, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., switched allegiances to Obama, partly because of anger in his home district over his choice for president.

Nutter has been called Philadelphia's Barack Obama. He is black, Ivy League-educated, popular and an agent of change -- just like Obama. But Nutter has remained steadfast in his support of Clinton -- to the surprise of many in this city.

The mayor acknowledges that some voters have approached him and asked, in his words, "Why not support a brother?"

"Somehow, someway, for some people there's an automatic assumption that a mayor who is African-American or some other elected official has to support another African-American," Nutter said.

"I thought that when Dr. King said that he wanted people to be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, I thought that's what he was talking about," Nutter added.

Nutter is sticking with Clinton, even though by doing so, he said he might be thwarting the election of America's first black president.

"Certainly the opportunity to demonstrate to my 13-year-old daughter that there is a bright future for her, that a woman could get elected president of the United States, is equally compelling," he said.

"I think that we are at this historical moment," Nutter said. "Either candidate will clearly make history. But you only get to vote for one. The most important thing is winning in November, putting a Democrat in the White House."

He added, "I'm a great fan of history. I don't know that when people are struggling to pay the bills, that they ultimately conclude that, 'Well, if we can just make history with this vote, then all of my problems will be solved.' It still, for me, always comes back to performance [and] track record."

Nutter met with both senators before deciding his endorsement. He brushes aside those who say he did not back Obama because Obama endorsed someone else for mayor.

"We're talking about president of the United States. They're not running for high school class president," he said.

"I think Sen. Clinton is the absolute best candidate for not only Philadelphia but for other cities like us, certainly for Pennsylvania [and] the United States of America, to restore our leadership role all around the world."

In a wide-ranging interview, Nutter voiced outrage that the Democratic Party is opposed to counting the Michigan and Florida primaries because both states scheduled the elections early in the primary season, against party rules. Clinton won those primaries -- though candidates were barred from campaigning in the states and Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan.

Counting the abridged votes from those states would help Clinton to narrow Obama's lead in delegates.

"Think about who we are in the Democratic Party and the country we are in," Nutter said. "That we would somehow leave out any of our citizens in this process, I think, would be an absolute disgrace. We need to be a bit smarter about it."

Political observers say Nutter's pick for president perhaps could cause him political problems down the road.

"The people who swept him to victory are exactly the same people who are over the moon for Barack Obama," said Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Chris Satullo.

The Rev. Ellis Washington, president of Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, told The National Journal "there is some frustration" with Nutter's endorsement.

"I do speak to some who look at Nutter's name and kind of shake their head," he said.

A random sampling of voters here found others shaking their heads, too.

Philadelphian Victoria Walker said, "I would have thought that he would have endorsed Obama."

"I've struggled with this one a little bit, because from the perspective of Philadelphia, in many ways I see Nutter as a parallel to Obama," said long-time resident Fred Rosenfeld.

Nutter endorsed Clinton back in December, when she was the clear front-runner. Now she is struggling. But Nutter is having no second thoughts.

When asked if he would endorse Clinton again, Nutter said, "Absolutely. Same endorsement. Never a hesitation."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events