John Street Endorses Stephen Zappala, Goes After Josh Shapiro’s A.G. Qualifications

The former mayor and other supporters gathered in North Philly to back the Allegheny County D.A. — and slam the Montco commissioner.

Left: John Street (Photo | Jeff Fusco). Right: Josh Shapiro (Photo | Matt Rourke, AP)

Left: John Street (Photo | Jeff Fusco). Right: Josh Shapiro (Photo | Matt Rourke, AP)

Donald Trump, a rich kid from Queens who’s running for president, is the only candidate less qualified for the office he seeks than state attorney general candidate Josh Shapiro, former mayor John Street said on Monday.

Street gathered with State Sen. Shirley Kitchen and his son Sharif Street, who’s running to succeed Kitchen, along with North Philly ward leaders and former and current city controllers to endorse Stephen Zappala for attorney general. The group held a press conference Monday afternoon at Shiloh Apostolic Temple at 15th and Master streets in North Philly.

Three Democratic candidates are vying to replace Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat whose term has been marred by scandal from the outset. In addition to Zappala, the district attorney for Allegheny County, and Shapiro, a Montgomery County Commissioner, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is running as well. Local political leaders have been divvying up endorsements in the race lately, with City Council President Darrell Clarke endorsing Shapiro and Mayor Jim Kenney endorsing Zappala. 

Street, who was succeeded by his protege Clarke on City Council when he became Mayor in 2000, is the latest to throw his lot in with Zappala, who also has the support of John Dougherty’s politically powerful IBEW Local 98. It’s curious, given their long relationship, that Street and Clarke are backing different candidates in this race — to say nothing of much of the local political establishment backing Western Pennsylvania’s Zappala.

“A lot of us have great respect for Josh Shapiro, but we didn’t think he would run for an office for which he is so utterly and totally and completely unprepared,” Street said on Monday. “It’s just amazing.”

Shapiro is a former state representative with a law degree from Georgetown but no prosecutorial experience. Political PR man and Zappala ally Frank Keel, who called the press conference on Monday, said Zappala and Shapiro are in “a statistical dead heat.” New polls show Shapiro with a strong lead.

But imagine the Republican attack ads if Shapiro wins the primary, Street said: “And we thought Kathleen Kane was the least experienced person ever to run for state attorney general …”

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said that Shapiro has misrepresented himself as a reformer and as a public-school advocate in his campaign. “We can’t afford to run into that kind of buzzsaw in November,” Butkovitz said.

Former Controller Jonathan Saidel said candidates should run for office if they’re qualified for the job, not just because they think they can get elected.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers recently rescinded its endorsement of Shapiro after it was revealed that he accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from Students First PAC, a group that favors school privatization. The PFT hasn’t confirmed that that donation was the reason for its change of heart.

City Council President Darrell Clarke, a former Street staffer who represents the neighborhood, did not attend the event.

On Monday afternoon, Shapiro’s campaign said that it’s not unusual for attorney generals around the country to come into office without prosecutorial experience. 

“Josh is the one with a progressive vision to do more to protect consumers, the environment and defend equal rights as attorney general,” said campaign manager Joe Radosevich. “Josh manages a budget of nearly $400 million and over 2,300 employees, four times the size of the Attorney General’s office. This management experience and his leadership on criminal justice reform is why more district attorneys and law enforcement leaders across Pennsylvania support Josh than his opponents combined.”

Shapiro has also come under fire for a TV ad his campaign is airing that attacks Zappala over a case involving the beating of a black man by a white man at a train station in Pittsburgh. The ad implies that Zappala went easy on the attacker because of racial bias. The assailant was sentenced to three-to-six years in prison, while four friends, who looked on during the assault, received probation.

The ad is “a complete fabrication,” Keel said before the press conference on Monday, while campaign workers stapled posters for Zappala and Sharif Street to nearby telephone poles. (Keel said he was waiting for NBC10 to arrive to start the news conference, but a TV crew never showed.) When the conference concluded, Keel asked the only question: Is it OK, in politics, to win at any cost?

Former mayor Street said he’d only seen a portion of the ad, but that he was shocked by it. Ads like that don’t inspire confidence that Shapiro can win the general election or successfully perform the duties of the attorney general’s office, he said.

Shapiro’s campaign rejected the characterization of the ad. “Keel’s claim that our ad is a ‘fabrication’ is flat-out false. It’s a series of news clips,” said Radosevich. “The truth is that four men who hurled racial epithets, committed robbery, and participated in an assault received 100 hours of community service. Zappala’s plea deals, and his decision to drop all charges of hate crimes, outraged both the victim, Kevin Locket, and the judge in the case. Instead of answering serious questions about Zappala’s decision to not go to trial when the evidence was so clear, his camp resorted to name-calling on the day before the election. ”

Shapiro’s campaign rejected the notion that they have injected race into the campaign, saying it was inappropriate for Zappala to use images of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man killed by a Charleston police officer, and Sandra Bland, who died in her prison cell after being pulled over for a traffic violation, in a campaign ad last month.

Follow @JaredBrey on Twitter.