Ringside: Street speaks - mostly of Mayor Nutter

John F. Street, who took the gloves off in sessions set up to talk of PHA, whose board he chairs, then veered.
John F. Street, who took the gloves off in sessions set up to talk of PHA, whose board he chairs, then veered.

Ex-mayor dissects, criticizes his longtime rival's tenure.

Posted: September 26, 2010

For more than two years, John F. Street refrained from commenting on Mayor Nutter because he said he wanted to give him a chance.

But now the former mayor says the muzzle is off.

Over the course of two long interviews, Street ripped into Nutter, criticizing his lack of vision, misguided policies, and inability to get things done.

Street said Nutter failed to meet the challenges brought on by the recession. He was particularly critical of Nutter's lack of attention to the African American community.

Both interviews, including one last week with the Editorial Board, began as discussions about the Philadelphia Housing Authority and morphed into harsh critiques of Nutter. Street and Nutter have never been close, but now the gloves are off.

Last month, it was disclosed that Street has been meeting with Sam Katz and urging his former rival to challenge Nutter for mayor next year. That heightened the tension already between Street and Nutter surrounding the PHA controversy.

Street is chairman of the board at the housing agency. As such, he was thrust back into the spotlight in the wake of the sexual-harassment claims against Executive Director Carl R. Greene.

Before the Greene scandal erupted, Street said he was enjoying teaching at Temple and traveling, and the beauty of doing nothing. But now he has taken center stage at PHA, while Nutter has remained in the background.

This Street seems different from the mayor who was more guarded and aloof. Now he appears loose, accessible, and engaging.

For once, he really does seem to be having a Great Day! At the very least, he appears to be enjoying dissecting Nutter's tenure as mayor.

In the interviews, Street called Nutter's first budget "pathetic" and said the city's five-year financial plan was "not worth the paper it is printed on." He said Nutter was a "micromanager" who didn't have any "political convictions" or "priorities."

Street said he believed Nutter has struggled to make the leap from city councilman to mayor. In Council, Nutter focused on small issues and didn't have to make big spending decisions or implement policy. But as mayor, Street said, "you can't be for lower taxes and more services."

Street said Nutter had hired a lot of top staffers who didn't know the city or how to run a government. He can't believe that more than halfway through his first term, Nutter has yet to negotiate contracts with three of the four city unions. And Street is outraged that the police union deal allows officers to move out of the city. He believes that issue could hurt Nutter during the election.

Street said Nutter's tax increases were a temporary fix that didn't address the city's structural finances. But what about the recession - doesn't Nutter deserve some slack for being dealt a bad hand?

"His blatant failure to respond to the recession has been his biggest problem," Street said.

Street said he would have "cut spending and cut it really fast" as soon as the recession hit. Street said Nutter failed to rightsize the government, adding that, when he was mayor, he reduced the number of city workers even during good times.

Street saved his harshest critique for Nutter's relationship with the African American community. He said Nutter had "turned his back" on blacks in the neighborhoods.

Specifically, Street pointed to the Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" policy, which appealed to white voters at the expense of harassing mostly young black males.

Perhaps. But if faced with a choice on Election Day, will blacks support Katz or another white candidate over Nutter?

"ABN," Street said, which is short for Anybody But Nutter. "There are people out there who can't wait to vote against him."

Street said the mostly white mainstream media were not in tune with the depth of disdain for Nutter in the African American community. He said Nutter was "not a black mayor, he's just a mayor with dark skin." Street relayed an anecdote of a black man who stopped him on the street and asked if the city would ever have another black mayor.

Street made it clear that he has not endorsed Katz for mayor and was not convinced he could win. He said he has also met with Tom Knox and three other potential candidates whose names he would not disclose, adding that they all called him. "The sharks smell blood," Street said.

Street, who beat Katz twice in the general election for mayor, said Katz "wants to be mayor and knows how to be mayor." He said Knox was smart, but "doesn't present well." Street likened Knox's poor communication skills to a "rich Bob Brady." But he said Knox, who spent millions of his own money in the last mayoral primary, has the resources to mount a strong campaign.

Street said other credible candidates included former City Controller Jonathan Saidel and State Sen. Anthony Williams. He added that City Councilman Bill Green was the "ideal candidate" and predicted he would be mayor one day.

Street made it clear that he wasn't going to run for mayor again, but quickly added that he would beat Nutter, 9-1, in the black community.

What Street wants is a primary battle. He thinks Nutter should be forced to defend his record and offer a detailed agenda for a second term.

"What's wrong with a little competition?" Street asked. "I think the city would benefit from a healthy debate."


Ringside:

Chat live with Paul Davies on Monday at 1 p.m. at www.philly.com


E-mail deputy editorial page editor Paul Davies at pdavies@phillynews.com.

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