Milton Street: Serious Fringe Candidate

How his run for mayor could hurt Michael Nutter

For Michael Nutter, nothing good can come of Milton Street’s bid for mayor. Nutter is going to win. Obviously. But there’s a lot more to a reelection campaign than winning, particularly when you’re an ambitious mayor heading into a second term after a difficult couple of years. Nutter presumably wants to spend the next few months articulating his agenda for a second term and rebuilding his image. Street makes that a lot harder.

There are signs that Nutter is considering actually wrangling with Street, but I think he’ll ultimately choose to ignore him. What’s the upside for the mayor in engaging with a clown like Milton Street? Better for Nutter to treat Street like a Philadelphia version of Lyndon LaRouche, a fringe candidate unworthy of discussing.

But there are perils to ignoring him as well. Unlike LaRouche, Street is capable of attracting the attentions of the local press, if only because of his antics. More worrisome for Nutter is the possibility that Street could attract protest votes from an embarrassingly large number of residents who would have preferred to see Nutter face a serious challenger in the May primary. That just would not look good, particularly if Street’s votes are from largely African American wards, where the mayor is weak. And this is pretty clearly Street’s game: to humiliate Mayor Nutter by running what Daily News columnist Elmer Smith called a “blacker-than-thou campaign.”

Short of a candidate who could actually beat him (and there didn’t seem to be any of those), this is the worst of all possible match-ups for Nutter. No margin of victory would be impressive, given how marginal Milton Street is. Nutter has no opportunity to sharpen his message and look good in comparison to a credible rival because, after all, Street is just a joke. And to top it off, there is a decent possibility Street will win a not insignificant number of votes.

Nutter understands the risks, I think. Why else would Nutter’s pollster be asking voters what they would think if the mayor ran negative ads against Street? Why else would the mayor try (but fail) to have Street bumped from the ballot? Some thought that was stupid, a case of the mayor playing the hot dog vendor’s game. I think Nutter was right to try: If he succeeded, he could have avoided a serious headache.

But he didn’t. And now instead of a smooth roll-out of Nutter 2.0, he has to contend with former federal prisoner Milton Street.

Lest we forget, there is a general election after May’s primary, where Nutter will face the winner of the GOP primary, which features real estate agent John Featherman and party-endorsed Karen Brown, who last month was a registered Democrat.