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FBI bug helps Street win re-election as Philadelphia mayor

Street: 'This is an impressive margin of victory'

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg , Bureau Chief

PHILADELPHIA -- Mayor John F. Street can thank "The Bug" for helping him win another four years in office.

Philadelphia Mayor John Street celebrates his re-election with supporters at his campaign headquarters. Voters elected Street to a second term yesterday, four weeks after an FBI bug was discovered in his City Hall office. (Chris Gardner, Associated Press)
Click photo for larger image.

Street, who cleverly turned the discovery of a federal listening device in his office from a negative to a positive, defeated repeat Republican challenger Sam Katz yesterday by a wide margin.

The 60-year-old Democrat cruised to victory with 58 percent of the vote, with 95 percent of precincts reporting. Katz had 42 percent, as he was dealt his third loss in three tries for the office.

Street, a 25-year veteran of Philadelphia's political wars and a former president of City Council, was joined by Gov. Ed Rendell, a popular two-term mayor, and hundreds of cheering, clapping supporters in a joyous celebration at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Center City last night.

Street is a dour politician who doesn't smile a lot in public, but he had the look of a winner last night, grinning broadly at the happy crowd.

He walked in to the sound of the theme from the hit movie "Rocky" blaring and the crowd chanting, "Four more years."

"This is an impressive victory," Street said. "When we started this campaign, it never crossed my mind that I would enjoy the margin of victory that seems apparent."

He thanked his wife, Naomi, "my partner," and "our great governor, Ed Rendell," who stood next to him.

"He and I have been partners in a lot of things. It's hard for me to imagine a more productive partnership between two political people," he said. "We made a commitment to turn our attention to the neighborhoods without turning our back on Center City. We have kept that."

"We are looking forward to the next four years," Robert Eddis, president of the 14,000-member Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, told the crowd before Street appeared to speak. "Mayor Street cares about the working-class people. He has been beside us for the last four years."

Street's re-election chances were thrown into doubt in early October when a routine sweep of his office by city police turned up an electronic listening device planted by federal investigators. The federal authorities have steadfastly refused to say what they were looking for, but did say that the mayor himself was not a target of the probe.

Reports swirled in the news media that the feds had been conducting an investigation for at least a year into allegations of municipal corruption, perhaps into the fixing of city parking tickets or the awarding of contracts at Philadelphia International Airport.

But Street worked to turn a negative into a positive, as he and his supporters blamed President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Republican administration in Washington for undertaking a political fishing expedition to embarrass the Democratic mayor of Pennsylvania's largest city.

Dan Fee, a campaign consultant to Street who also worked for Rendell, said of the bug: "Once we found out that we did not take a hit from the bug, it solidified our lead."

Bush is expected to make a strong effort to carry Pennsylvania in the 2004 presidential election, something he failed to do in 2000. Emphasizing the national aspect of the race, Street brought former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore in to campaign for him.

"This is a Democratic city and [Street's re-election] sends a strong message," said Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman who was at Street's celebration last night.

"This is a great night for Democrats in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is significant, this is a key state for Democrats. ... We have to win Pennsylvania to regain the White House in 2004."

Street, who is black, was joined by many members of the city's large African-American population in saying the bug was another misguided federal effort to embarrass an important black leader, as former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had done in the 1960s by investigating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and prominent black activist Malcolm X.

Yet Katz, a businessman and financial investment adviser, ran a surprisingly strong race, especially in an overwhelmingly Democratic city like this. He had pulled to within about five points of Street in most polls a month ago, when the listening device was found and dominated all other election issues.

The election campaign was marked by repeated examples of strange behavior, such as two members of the Street administration being charged with making terroristic threats against a landlord after an unlit Molotov cocktail was thrown into a Katz campaign office.

Federal authorities looked into whether Street's brother, Milton Street, had tried to influence a $1 million contract at the airport. They also checked into a civil lawsuit filed against Katz by three ex-partners who claimed he had cost them $2 million in a business deal.

Officials from the mayor's campaign wrote a street-savvy hip-hop song called "Street Life" to attract younger voters and it was performed by a rap group called Dem Boyz. One line from the song touted the mayor for "turning this 'hood into a neighborhood."

Katz held a political rally last weekend for dog lovers in upscale Rittenhouse Square, billing it as "Dogs for Katz."

Street campaigned on improving the safety of city neighborhoods, getting abandoned cars off local streets and lowering the high cost of auto insurance in the city.

Katz pledged to "get Philadelphia moving again" with more jobs and residents and complained the city had lost the economic momentum it had under Rendell in the 1990s.

As the election neared, Street gradually pulled away from Katz in the polls. Black voters apparently were energized by claims that federal officials were trying to muddy the incumbent through their investigation. In the past two weeks, polls had shown Street with a double-digit lead, with one recent poll putting him as much as 17 points ahead.

For Street, yesterday was the second time he had defeated Katz in a mayoral race. Street won his first term in 1999 by edging the GOP challenger by only about 9,000 votes, or about 2 percent of the votes cast that year.

Tom Barnes can be reached at or 1-717-787-4254.

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