John Street for Mayor?

Maybe it's time for a second act

I like the fact that John Street’s back on the scene.

In fact, I like John Street.

No, not Jon Stewart—John Street, the former mayor.

Really. Flawed, supercilious, bigheaded though he may have been—and for all I know, still is…

… I like him.

The former Mayor, as everyone must know by now, recently remerged from his secluded villa in North Philadelphia when the Carl Greene debacle hit the headlines.

And the fun hasn’t stopped since. [SIGNUP]

You might have expected that Street, as PHA board chairman, would have been in Greene’s corner until the bitter end. During his days as mayor, he was known for his extreme loyalty.

But with Greene, Street was among the first out of the box to whack him upside the head.

“He could have built a billion houses,” the former mayor said about Greene, “but if he sexually harassed one woman on his staff, he’s gone.”

Not sure how Mayor Nutter’s feeling about this whole deal, but I haven’t heard him say anything remotely as clear as that.

Then again, to be fair, how did Street, as PHA board chairman, not know about Greene’s shenanigans a long time ago?

The number of women accusing Greene of improper behavior is up to eight and counting. And who knows how many more public housing advocates are still ducked low in their cubicles or hiding under their desks?

Still, I believe the former mayor when he says he didn’t know about any of this (though, yes, of course, he should have). If he had known about Greene’s unwanted overtures, that fact would surely have leaked out from some dark corner of the city’s political world by now. Stuff like that never stays on the down low in Philly.

Curious of all, though, is now that Street’s been pulled back out into the political daylight, how much he clearly seems to be enjoying it.

He’s been encouraging Sam Katz to run for mayor—and, wait, now Tom Knox, too?

Knox is actually saying he was told by Street that it was a “distinct possibility” that he’d throw his support to him if he decided to make a go.

Katz? Knox?

Time to state the obvious.

Why not John Street himself?

In the political climate we live in today, is there anything really beyond the pale anymore?

Well, actually, yes, there is. And that would be John Street back as mayor.

The thought of having to probe the dark and gloomy final years of the Street administration in a political contest is simply too much déjà vu all over again for anybody’s mental health to withstand.

But, yes, there is one way Street could play a major role in this city’s life again.

For that to happen, though, he’d have to forget Sam Katz and Tom Knox and fogy pinhead lunches at the Palm and any desire to avenge Nutter for political battles that nobody even wants to remember anymore.

He’d have to blot all that out and go back to the one core belief he held that always brought out the best in him:

The poor come first.

And who can argue with that?

Are you kidding? Actually, these days, it seems everybody does.

Back in his day, Street had so little respect for the media that he just didn’t bother to communicate the obvious poor-come-first selling point: which is, poverty causes bad things to happen to everyone, including, and sometimes especially, those who aren’t poor.

Street could have stood tall and talked about what those closest to him still believe he felt most deeply in his heart: that poverty begets violence; that poverty is the cause of illiteracy; that poverty causes schools to fail; and that until you make great inroads into the deep poverty that bedevils this city, greatness can never be achieved.

But he never did, at least not adequately, and so no one was sure what needed to be done to help change things.

Ego and arrogance were John Street’s twin demons, and it messed up his political career big time. He’ll be criticized for his failures, fairly and often unfairly, for decades to come; he is the easiest of Philadelphia targets.


Because here’s what you can’t take away John Street: He cared more about the poorest residents of this city than any Philadelphia mayor in modern history.

You could see it when he walked through our city’s most worn-out streets come campaign time. The love and respect was mutual.

So here’s the dream: John Street, older and wiser, forgets the old battles and goes back to fighting for the one constituency that loves him and has never needed him as much as they do now.

A second act waits.

Ready to step up, boss?

Tim Whitaker (, a writer and editor, is the executive director of Mighty Writers.