Off the Cuff: November 2006

With Ed Rendell’s imminent reelection as governor, I keep fantasizing about what he could now say to John Street. Rendell will be free to speak his mind, given that — as the Governor himself has said — he won’t be running for anything else in the future. We can only guess how our former mayor really feels about the current state of his city and the Street administration.

I imagine a conversation between them going like this, if Rendell could get Street alone:

“John, I haven’t been able to say much about the mess you’ve made of Philadelphia over the past seven years — not that I haven’t wanted to. God only knows it’s been very frustrating to me how you’ve fucked everything up. When I left the mayor’s office, the city was in much better shape. The way things stand now, Philadelphia’s probably the murder capital of the country. My God, John — 15 murders in one week! We’re in the middle of a crisis, and that joke of a police commissioner can’t figure out which way is up. Why the hell haven’t you fired him?”

“Sylvester Johnson is right,” Street says. “Nothing can be done.”

“Oh, Christ,” Rendell says. “Do you have any idea how hard I worked, selling the idea of this city? How many goddamn Wawa openings I went to? It’s a great city! But you don’t even like going out in it, or being with people. Why the hell did you get into politics if you don’t like being with people?”

“Oh, that’s simple,” Street says. “Milton needed work.”

“But that can’t be the point, John. You have to let the people know you care.” Rendell clenches his fists. “You have to let them feel your passion, give them hope.”

Street is silent, his head bent.

“You do care, don’t you?” Rendell wonders. “About more than handing Milton a piece of the airport?”

“Excuse me?” Street says, startled. “Oh yeah, sure. I was just checking my BlackBerry.”

Now Rendell is really seething. “Seven years ago, Philadelphia had a great reputation — I was even called America’s Mayor. Now look at it. It seems like half of your administration is under indictment, or should be. If Ron White hadn’t died, the feds probably would have nailed you too, John. It’s pay-to-play every day — that should be the city’s slogan now.”

Street is still fiddling with his BlackBerry.

“What the hell are you doing?” Rendell demands.

“I was just e-mailing my wife. She wants me to pick up some bread.”

“Don’t you get it? If the city isn’t moving forward, it’s going backwards, and then we’re dead! What have you gotten done? Safe Streets, the neighborhood thing — it’s all bullshit.”

“I got Milton work. And a lot of other people. You’re telling me it was different under you?”

“No. Except I hired David L. Cohen and John Timoney, and they went on to do other important things. Your people are dead or in jail. Or incompetent. Answer one question: Why is Sylvester Johnson still police commissioner?”

Street scowls, but then brightens. “Corey Kemp has found God in prison.”

“You know, John,” Rendell says, “I love this city. I always wondered if you really — ”

“Yeah — listen, my BlackBerry is vibrating. Naomi wants the bread. I’ll see you.”

Rendell looks up as John Street walks off, and says to no one: “He really doesn’t have a goddamn clue, does he?”