Milton Street for Mayor? Hey, Why Not?

Marks: One man's flaws are another's finer points.


As the city’s race for Mayor heats up in advance of the Democratic primary, the choice facing voters remains unclear, if not disappointing. Jim Kenney seems like a good candidate but mostly unwilling to address the city and school system’s pension and healthcare woes with needed cost cuts. I love Lynne Abraham’s intelligence, energy and passion for the city, but then again so did Benjamin Franklin when he first voted for her in 1788. Anthony Williams has a long track record in the State Senate but has faced criticism over entanglements with the Philadelphia School Partnership. They’re all flawed, really.

Which brings me to Milton Street. Hey, why not I ask?

In a piece for the Inquirer earlier this week Tom Ferrick Jr. warned us not to forget the past of Milton Street. Forget it? We should embrace it!

For example, Ferrick writes that “Street is a serial prevaricator, who lies early and often.” Really? A politician who lies? Who’d have thunk it?! Next thing you know he’ll be telling us that CEOs, celebrities, news anchors and Presidents lie. C’mon Tom — we watch House of Cards. We know that great politicians are also great liars. They lie about their affairs, about weapons of mass destruction, about their email. It’s a mandatory job requirement — a feature, not a bug. He’s married, he’s not married. He lives in Jersey, he doesn’t live in Jersey. Meh – who cares? This is a guy willing to bend the truth to achieve his goals. This is America. So if Street is that good at lying, more power to him. He’s in the right place to demonstrate those skills.

“If there ever is a Tax Deadbeat Hall of Fame, Street would be one of the first inductees,” Ferrick says. “The list of taxes he has owed and tax liens on his properties is a long one.” And he’s right. Street even went to prison for tax evasion. And to that I say: My man! Taxes in Philadelphia are already obscenely high, so don’t you want someone in office who hates taxes more than you do? Wouldn’t you like a guy who’s gone to great lengths — even served prison time for God’s sake — to avoid paying his taxes? Don’t you want a mayor who will come up with any excuse, even going so far as to defend himself in court by saying that in his search of the law books he found no clause that gave the Internal Revenue Service the right to collect taxes? That’s the kind of creative tax thinking we need from our leadership. And hey … maybe he’s right. Maybe the IRS has no right to collect our taxes. You go for it Milton … I’m 100 percent behind you on that issue.

Ferrick is up in arms because Street once negotiated a $30,000 a month consulting deal with a company who he helped land work at the airport. Not only that, but when his brother was mayor he landed contracts to run the food concessions at the River Rink ice skating rink (and of course got taken to court because he owed back taxes, being the true tax-fighting warrior that he is). I’ve seen Milton interviewed quite a few times and to put it diplomatically he’s not likely to become a member of MENSA anytime soon. But give the guy credit for his business savvy. Respect his entrepreneurial skills. This is exactly what we need in a Mayor – someone who wheels and deals and gets awesome contracts for the city just like the contracts he got for himself. This guy is definitely a winner.

Ferrick tells how Street’s time in elected office was short. “In 1978,” the columnist reports, “he was elected to the state House — and promptly pitched a tent on the lawn of the Capitol to complain about the office space he was given. In 1980, he was elected to the state Senate. He has run for the U.S. House, for City Council, for the State Senate (in Pennsylvania, not New Jersey) and, in 2011, for mayor.” This is a bad thing? I think not. This is Philadelphia personified: a loser who never quits. Street is merely carrying on our long tradition of defeat and loss and frustration — like the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers are doing at present. Who to better represent our city’s long history of embarrassing mediocrity than Milton Street?

And what about Street’s fighting past, which Ferrick forgot to mention. Growing up I loved watching him and his brother on TV every night creating controversy, organizing protests, and most famously causing a brawl in our City Council that still ranks among the best Philadelphia moments in history. We need that kind of passion, that kind of excitement, that kind of commitment and enthusiasm in the Mayor’s office. Which is why we need Milton Street!

Wait — that was his brother John who got in that famous City Council fight? Okay, but Milton did get arrested with his brother for this other City Council brawl, so you’ll forgive my confusion. Passion. Excitement. Enthusiasm. All exactly what Philly needs.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.