Speaking earlier today from the Mayor's Reception Room in City Hall, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced the new Director of his Office for Sustainability to be Katherine Gajewski, a Special Assistant to the Mayor's Chief of Staff since January of 2008. Ms. Gajewski replaces the previous Director Mark Allen Hughes, who left the position a month earlier.
In searching for a new Director, Mayor Nutter said, he was "looking for someone who had political savvy, operational experience, was a good communicator, and a good delegator." He added that Ms. Gajewski's appointment ensured that "the future of sustainability in Philadelphia is in good, competent...hard -working hands."
During her post as Special Assistant in the Mayor's Office, Ms. Gajewski managed many important citywide projects, including Philly Spring Cleanup, which as the mayor noted, was recognized nationally as the "largest citywide clean-up in U.S. History" in just its first year. She played a key role in public outreach efforts by the Mayor's office, especially during the budget debates of this past year, organizing eight town hall meetings among other events. Prior to serving in the Mayor's Office, Ms. Gajewski coordinated the sustainability and planning policy teams on then Councilman Nutter's mayoral campaign. She also coordinated the campaign for the Breath Free Philadelphia Alliance, an organization that successfully pressed for smoke-free legislation in Philadelphia.
Greenworks Philadephia, Mayor Nutter's ambitious plan for making Philadelphia America's Greenest City by 2015, has passed into its implementation stage since being launched back in April, and Ms. Gajewski will be charged with the huge responsibility of seeing that each of the plan's 169 initiatives falling under the categories of Energy, Environment, Equity, Economy, and Engagement are indeed realized. In the process, she will be judged against the enormously high standards left by Mr. Hughes, a policy wonk and Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania who many consider to be the smartest man in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, Mayor Nutter expressed confidence in Ms. Gajewski as "...the perfect person to lead this next phase. She has a proven track record of working across government, collaborating with outside partners, and implementing major initiatives in a wide range of policy areas. These are exactly the skills that will help us meet our Greenworks targets."
In a sign that the road ahead would be challenging, a reporter at the event uncomfortably inquired into the details of Ms. Gajewski's salary, reflecting an ever increasing complaint amongst Philadelphians that Mayor Nutter's closest circle is overpaid while the rest of the city's employees suffer difficult paycuts and job losses. Some even believe that the Director of Sustainability and Office of Sustainability in general are a farce and completely unnecessary in light of the current nationwide economic strain and belt-tightening.
These beliefs and this particular question are frustrating because they give the false impression that major sustainable initiatives just incur "added costs" and amount to a frivolous expansion of government spending in a time where additional revenue is scarce. In reality, the cities that aren't already committing the added time, effort, and money towards pursuing a focus on sustainability will ultimately suffer the most during the coming years: shrinking oil reserves, high energy prices, and economic pitfalls are sure to follow an obdurate insistence on "staying the course". As Mayor Nutter himself explained, "to not have an office on these issues would actually end up costing us more money". Right on, Mr. Mayor. Now let's help he and Ms. Gajewski spread the word.