Street crime stance now a target The mayor, touting his plan to curb gun violence, was on the defensive. Michael Nutter stayed on the attack.

Posted: January 20, 2007

Mayor Street embarked on a round of public events this week to sell his plan to combat violent crime. It turned into an offensive to combat the attacks on his crime record from former Councilman Michael A. Nutter and other mayoral candidates who say he should have been bolder on the issue.

Street's message, in essence: It's complicated.

He blamed violence, variously, on the war in Iraq, a lack of "love" in the city, media exaggeration, and politics.

Candidates in the Democratic primary have used Street as a pi┬Łata in recent days, accusing him of a tepid violence-prevention strategy and of making excuses for the problem.

Nutter, for instance, yesterday derided Street's "ridiculous comments" and said he refused to accept the implication that nothing could be done about gun violence and a rising homicide rate.

"Philadelphia's reputation is foundering on the inaction of this administration," said Nutter, who is advocating a program of aggressive stop-and-frisk policing in high-crime neighborhoods and hiring 500 more officers.

"Putting more cops on the street is not a 'knee-jerk reaction,' as the mayor suggests, but a proactive solution to a growing genocide in our city," Nutter said.

Street declined to take the bait after a community forum yesterday on violence-prevention at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center hotel.

"I'm done with him," Street said afterward. "He's just trying to use me for his campaign.

"We're staying focused on what we are doing."

The administration has been pursuing a multipart program, including hiring 200 police officers, a crackdown on truancy, conflict-resolution training for community leaders, and an expansion of "curfew centers" to occupy young people at night.

The mayor and top administration officials also pressed U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and Bob Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) for federal funding to hire 500 "mentors" for at-risk youth.

Street said he was not making excuses by discussing violence in the context of the war or a general coarsening of society, but being honest about the problem. He also said that candidates for mayor are making extravagant promises that they know the city cannot afford.

"So this is a complicated thing, in an election and all that, people want to simplify it, everybody wants a sound-bite version of it," Street told reporters. "There is no effective sound-bite version of this. This is always a conversation, because it's just that complicated and multifaceted."

Citing FBI statistics, Street asserted that serious crime had declined in the city, despite an increase in homicides.

"If we didn't have this uptick in shootings and homicides, we just wouldn't be talking about having this increase in police," he said.

And it is simplistic to think that arresting more people and pushing them through the criminal justice system will reduce shootings, Street said. He said he thinks it's better to focus on prevention, although it does not sound as punchy as states of emergency or more surveillance cameras.

That approach is vintage Street. For years, he has exasperated some advisers because he refuses to pay much attention to the communications-and-imagery side of politics. Street always has preferred to engage in the nitty-gritty of policy, working through problems methodically behind the scenes.

But the result in a sound-bite world is often a muddled picture of Street and a dearth of public and media credit for his accomplishments.

"What is bizarre is that . . . he just throws his hands up in the air," said Democratic political consultant Neil Oxman. "I can't figure out what they're doing."

The cost of disregarding the conventions of politics is rock-bottom job-performance ratings for Street in private polls done for several mayoral campaigns, Oxman said, adding, "He's a peculiar man."

Randall Miller, a political analyst and historian at St. Joseph's University, said that it was unusual for a political leader not to seize the bully pulpit of office to articulate a consistent, strong message.

"If you take it all together, it looks like he doesn't care, which isn't the case," Miller said. "He cuts against the grain of what you expect, and has been able to govern without being a very good politician."

Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.

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