Power: Manage This

What’s it really like to run Philadelphia? From snowstorms and stadium implosions to an FBI bug, Mayor Street’s former managing director tells all

Psychologist Abraham Maslow was no politician, but his theory of a “hierarchy of needs” is a companion corollary to Tip’s “All politics is local.”

As I traveled around the city, I could see Maslow’s entire hierarchy right before my eyes. I remember meeting in Rittenhouse Square one day with residents who were clamoring to have some trees pruned. I was then called to a crack house on the 5600 block of Beaumont Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, where a mother of two young children had a propane gas heater hooked up to the oven to provide warmth and a wading pool in the living room as the family’s toilet.

Same city, same day.

In Maslow’s theory, the family in Southwest Philadelphia represented the base of the hierarchy — basic physiological needs —  and the Rittenhouse Square group that wanted the trees pruned was the hierarchy’s apex of self-actualization. A managing director and mayor need to accommodate the two extremes of Maslow’s hierarchy.

It’s a grueling, pressure-packed job. While I got to the office at 7:30 or 8 a.m. and left 12 hours later, that didn’t define the workday. My BlackBerry would go off incessantly, with e-mails from the Mayor, commissioners and citizens. I received an e-mail alert every time a major crime occurred — including suicides (more than 125 a year).

When I walked down the street, I saw litter to pick up, potholes to fill, illegal signs to remove, street lights to repair. One night, my wife and I were dining outside at Brasserie Perrier on Walnut Street when I saw a city car parked illegally. I walked across the street to track down a Parking Authority officer. Twenty minutes later, when I returned, my food was cold and my wife was hot.