AS I WAS CONSIDERING ANOTHER RUN FOR MAYOR over the past several months, the biggest surprise to me was the encouragement from my former opponent in the 1999 and 2003 elections, Mayor John F. Street. After years of having no real relationship, we began talking politics. I found his insights sharp and incisive, and his knowledge of the city encyclopedic. Recently, after months of my asking, he agreed to an interview. We sat down at Temple (where he teaches urban government and politics) for a frank conversation about mayoring, our past, and — mostly — his frustration with what he sees as the current administration’s inability to effect change. “We are doing everything today the same way we did when Green, Goode, Rendell and Street were mayors,” he laments. “New day. Same way.”
Ex-mayors rarely say much about their successors. What’s made you decide to speak out?
Mayor Nutter has been incredibly arrogant, incompetent and offensive. There are more political cowards in our city than political giants. Someone had to say something!
And Mayor Nutter is among the cowards?
He’s reduced capitulation to an art form. He has no political courage. When a mayor proposes a budget, tax or program, he has to be willing to fight for it. This mayor just abandons his own proposals.
You told people you’d be for me if I ran. Was that because of how you feel about Nutter, or did you change your views about me?
You really wanted to be mayor, and I thought you had a chance to be really good at it. I didn’t change my views. I know more about you and how you feel about this city than anyone. No one heard you talk about this city as frequently as I did.
That must have been a form of punishment for you.
Every night. Two general-election campaigns. I got a real sense of you. I disagreed with you on many points, but you were serious about it. I knew you were persistent, a fighter.
Did you resent my running against you?
No, you were the loyal opposition in a general election. I would only have resented a primary challenge — I didn’t deserve that.
Maybe Nutter feels the same way about his standing as you did?
He shouldn’t. His performance hasn’t earned him the right to go unchallenged: 106,000 primary voters in 2007 — 36 percent — should not be picking a mayor for eight years. I understand why some don’t want to get crossways with a sitting mayor. But people who buy ink by the barrel seem to have lost their voice in this. This is about the future of the city. It’s about neighborhoods and basic services. It’s about the functionality and management of government. His 311 program has failed. PhillyStat has been abandoned. On the things that matter, Mayor Nutter has crippled the city.