Jill Porter | Turning silk purse iPhone into a PR sow's ear

Posted: July 06, 2007

BEFORE MAYOR Street's iPhone adventure gets eclipsed by the next public-relations debacle, I'd like to answer the question posed by his spokesman.

Last week, after Street was trashed by most local media for his sidewalk vigil to buy the new Apple phone, Joe Grace was asked why the national press reacted more positively.

You'll have to ask the local media that question, Grace replied.

I doubt that he expected an answer, since it was a rhetorical device meant to suggest that the local media was ill-inclined towards the mayor.

But I'm going to answer it anyway.

Because it was typical of Street to turn what could have been an opportunity to promote himself and this city into an embarassment.

No, it's not about the mayor needing to be ensconced in his office to be "working." Sophisticated communications devices let all of us work from remote locations.

And if a city employee would have been fired for doing the same thing - leaving the office to stand in line - so be it. With power comes prerogative.

And that's the first thing I thought when I saw a TV report of Street's mission: Why doesn't the mayor of the country's sixth-largest city have the clout to get a phone without making a public spectacle of himself?

He does, of course. But he declined to use it.

"If I pulled strings for the phone, I knew people would criticize that, so I did what I think is right," he told the Inquirer.

How disingenuous can you get?

For years, right under his nose, Street's closest friends and associates exploited his name and power for their own personal gain. The pay-to-play scandal swamped his administration, thanks to them.

And he never had a bad word to say about any of them.

But he wouldn't think of using his influence for something as benign as getting an iPhone without standing in line?

To suggest that taxpayers would have been offended if Apple or AT&T gave him an iPhone is an insult to our intelligence.

And what if the corporations did offer him a phone? Why not turn it into a PR bonanza?

Why not hold a press conference to promote it as compatible with the city's cutting-edge wi-fi technology?

Why leave it to Daily News reporter Jon Takiff to explain that the iPhone works "a lot faster and better" through a wireless network than a phone line.

"Lucky Philadelphians. We got your wi-fi right here," Takiff wrote, crediting Street's interest in technological innovation with bringing us the wireless network.

Street could have touted his agenda and made a public show of paying for the iPhone out of his own pocket.

Instead, he invited public scorn for wasting his time.

And now a word from Grace.

The mayor's spokesman said Street regularly has news conferences "to talk about wi-fi," including one a month ago at William Penn High School.

He reiterated that the mayor worked the whole time he was in line - in fact, he said, he was editing his weekly KYW radio address.

And Street didn't intend to make a spectacle of himself.

"It's not like he called a news conference," Grace said.

"The mayor was standing in line like anybody else. When I spoke to national reporters, they got that."

Standing in line, being heckled by passers-by and questioned by an incredulous local media.

Because he isn't "like anybody else." He's the mayor.

Doesn't he get that?

Even on a superficial level - what about appearances?

What about the lack of dignity of the city's chief executive wearing workout clothes and sitting in a lawnchair near a Dumpster?

Sure, Ed Rendell made himself look ridiculous on occasion. But when he was photographed in a swimsuit doing a cannonball dive, it was to publicize that his administration opened the public pools on time.

When he was photographed on his hands and knees, scrubbing a bathroom floor, it was to promote the fact that his administration was literally cleaning up City Hall.

It wasn't about getting himself a new gadget.

Look, what Street did is a damn sight better than what the Washington, D.C., mayor did: scarfed up so many iPhones before they went on sale that members of the public were sent away empty-handed and furious.

But, frankly, for a smart man, Street can be monstrously dumb.

I hope that helps answer Joe Grace's question. *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns:


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