Pulse: Chatter: Politics: Mayor for Hire

Can John Street retain shelf life when his term expires?


Several big-city mayors mired in scandal during their tenures have managed remarkable comebacks. Henry Cisneros relinquished his job as mayor of San Antonio in 1989 in the wake of an extramarital affair, then compounded his troubles by lying to the feds about paying his mistress hush money; he went on to serve as housing secretary under Bill Clinton. FBI agents nailed Marion Barry smoking crack in a hotel room in 1990, but Washingtonians couldn’t kick their addiction to him: He was reelected. And who could forget our own W. Wilson Goode? The 1985 MOVE bombing didn’t throw a bomb at his career; WDAS gave him a radio show, and he served in the U.S. Department of Education.

We’ll soon learn whether the public is as forgiving of John Street, whose administration became the focus of a sweeping FBI corruption probe in 2003, with several in his inner circle now behind bars. Still, the convictions “have not turned Street into a pariah,” says Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “Mayors of big cities have lives that extend beyond their terms.”

Some see Street returning to law. Managing partners will overlook Street’s abysmal 25 percent approval rating when eyeing his deep political contacts and rainmaker potential. For his part, Ed Rendell suspects Street will mix it up; “A combination of practicing law, teaching college and doing charitable work” is the Governor’s guess.

But can a man who built his reputation on political street-fighting so easily retire from the ring? Mark Nevins, who served as communications director for Street’s 2003 reelection campaign, thinks the mayor is scoping out possibilities for — yes — his next political race. “Street enjoys the competition of the campaign,” he says. “And like all politicians, he craves the validation inherent in winning votes.”

Just one problem with that: zero statewide appeal. (Though we’d pay to see Street campaigning in Lackawanna County.) Congress? The egocentric Street would be miserable as a relatively powerless freshman rep. Still, protégé and City Councilman Darrell Clarke predicts Hizzoner will remain, somehow, some way, in public office. “This is a man who’s spent 35 years in government,” he says. “I can’t see him turning off the switch.”