John F. Street

John Franklin Street (born October 15 1943) was the 97th Mayor of the City of Philadelphia. He was first elected to a term beginning on January 3, 2000, and was re-elected to a second term beginning in 2004. He is a Democrat and became mayor after having served 19 years in the Philadelphia City Council, including seven years as its president, before resigning as required under the Philadelphia City Charter in order to run for mayor. He followed Edward G. Rendell as mayor, assuming the post on January 3, 2000. Street was Philadelphia's second black mayor.

Notably, in an unusual circumstance, the City Council President at the time, Anna C. Verna, was briefly in the position of running the city before Mayor Street was sworn in, as Rendell resigned the post in December 1999 to become the head of the DNC (per Article III, Chapter 5, Section 3-500 of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter).

Biographical details and political career

Street was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and grew up as a member of a farming household. He graduated from Conshohocken High School, received an undergraduate degree in English from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, and his law degree from Temple University, which he had to apply to several times before he was accepted. Following his graduation from law school, Street served clerkships with Common Pleas Court Judge Mathew W. Bullock, Jr. and with the United States Department of Justice from which he was quickly terminated for poor performance. In his first professional job, Street taught English at an elementary school and, later, at the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center. He also practiced law privately prior to entering into public service. He is married and has four children. He is also a practicing Seventh-day Adventist.

As the councilman from North Philadelphia and Center City, as Council President, and as Mayor, he has sought to balance the interests of Philadelphia's low income citizens, and the interests of the city's business community. First elected to City Council in 1979, he served the city's Fifth Councilmanic District for many years. Somewhat conservative in the context of the politics of Philadelphia's African-American communities, he also became well-versed in the city's budget process.

Mayor Street was chosen unanimously by members of the council to serve as president in 1992, and again in 1996. Street, working closely with former Mayor Edward G. Rendell, was instrumental in crafting and implementing a financial plan that passed Council unanimously, and turned a $250 million deficit into the largest surplus in city history. Despite decreasing the business and wage tax four years in a row, Philadelphia still has the 10th largest tax burden in the United States. This is due to the financial burden to run the city's prisons, pay debt service, and employee pensions and health benefits. .

Street is very passionate on the importance of the Democratic Party. He once floated the possibility of being a candidate for statewide office in Pennsylvania. Since some recent corruption scandals, those prospects have diminished.

In light of recent scandals and FBI probes, his relationship with the City Council is tenuous at best. He and former councilman Michael Nutter, who is the current Mayor of Philadelphia, have been engaged in a political sparring match. After much public criticism over his failure to support a smoking ban in Philadelphia, Street ultimately agreed to a 2005 revision of Nutter's New York-style smoking ban.

The April 17, 2005, issue of Time Magazine listed him as one of the three worst big-city mayors in the United States. Mayoral spokespersons have disputed the validity of the list, claiming it simply capitalized on the recent scandal in which the mayor has not been indicted, while ignoring the mayor's recent accomplishments. Others critical of the list have pointed out that one of the best-ranked mayors, Richard M. Daley, has also been surrounded by corruption controversies.


During Street's first term, much emphasis was placed on the "Neighborhood Transformation Initiative." The Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), which was unveiled in April 2001 was an unprecedented effort to counter the history of decline in the City of Philadelphia and revitalize its neighborhoods. The program was designed to revitalize and restore communities, to develop or restore quality housing, to clean and secure streets, and to create opportunities for vibrant cultural and recreational facilities.

Initially, opponents raised objections to the program's emphasis on demolishing abandoned buildings rather than seeking re-use or restoration of the sometimes historic properties. Others hailed the program for bringing much-needed investment to the city's many poor neighborhoods. However, initial results have been positive. Since 2000, the average home in Philadelphia has appreciated by approximately 30 percent. The housing market continues to thrive, and developers have created more than 4,880 market-rate apartments and condominiums in the past several years.

Street also made children and their welfare a focus of his first term in office. In his first inaugural address in January 2000, Street officially proclaimed the year 2000 "The Year of the Child" in Philadelphia. He sought to increase funding for after-school programs, and formed the Philadelphia Children's Commission, a diverse group of government, civic, business, and faith-based leadership, whose job it was to advise Street on policies and programs that would have a positive impact in the lives of Philadelphia's children. He also sought to fight truancy among school aged children.

The city's public schools were among the worst in the country when Street took office, and much of his attention early on went into difficult decisions about the schools. In November 2001, a compromise between Street and the Republican-controlled General Assembly allowed for the privatization of the Philadelphia Public Schools. Edison Schools took over day-to-day operations of some of the worst-performing city schools, while a small number were taken over by other institutions, primarily area universities.

In August 2001, the lucrative Philadelphia Parking Authority was taken over by the Pennsylvania government in a compromise designed to help the Philadelphia School District out of its fiscal crisis. Many believed that the Parking Authority's revenues were politically insubstantial in comparison with the high-profile patronage positions on the Parking Authority's board that were transferred from Democratic to Republican hands in the move.

Drawing ire from skateboarders, he banned skateboarding from the internationally famous Love Park after the city had hosted the X-Games in 2001 and 2002 at the Wachovia Center. In 2004 he turned down a $1-million offer from DC Shoes to maintain and renovate the park to allow skating. Instead the city spent $800,000 on adding obstacles to prevent skaters from skating in the park.

Street created the Office of Health and Fitness after the city was named the fattest city in the nation by Men's Fitness magazine in 1999. The magazine cited the low number of athletic facilities and high number of fast-food restaurants. Street also signed into law a smoking ban on September 12, 2006.

Street has also advocated the construction of a city-wide Wi-Fi network. The network is to be run by the non-profit organization Wireless Philadelphia in partnership with the city and commercial internet service providers. Opponents of the plan suggest that government involvement will quash innovation. Supporters hope that the plan will help bring information access to poor Philadelphians and make the city more attractive to young and educated people.

In a 2002 address at a convention of the NAACP, Street said that “the brothers and sisters are running the city. Oh, yes. The brothers and sisters are running this city. Running it! Don’t you let nobody fool you, we are in charge of the City of Brotherly Love. We are in charge! We are in charge!” This observation attracted some criticism and charges of racial divisiveness.

The murder rate in Philadelphia hit a seven-year high during Street's tenure, but the overall trend was significantly lower than in the 1970s under Frank Rizzo. In 2005 there were 380 murders, up from 330 in 2004. Forty-five percent of those murdered were 25 or younger. 2006 saw 406 murders in the city, including a Philadelphia police officer. This murder trend continued to escalate into 2007, with 127 murders occurring by the end of April, 2007, a rate far in excess of the larger cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. At least one commentator referred to Street as being "strangely silent" in his efforts to reduce the city's murder rate.

On July 27, 2006, Street launched the Adolescent Violence Reduction Partnership (AVRP) as a way to prevent high risk youth (target age 10-15) from being victims of combat violence. He also expanded the Youth Violence Reduction Partnership (YVRP) into the 19th Police District in West Philadelphia.

On September 12, 2007, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, an African-American, supported by Street, called on "10,000 black men" to patrol the streets to lessen crime. On Halloween Day, with the 2007 murder total above 335, a Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed for the second time in as many years (he was the third officer to be shot in a four-day period).


City Hall corruption scandal

During the re-election campaign against Sam Katz, the FBI acknowledged that it had placed listening devices in the Mayor's office as part of a sweeping investigation of municipal corruption. The FBI's investigation uncovered a corruption scheme led by Street's friend and fund raiser Ron White, who died before going to trial. Former city treasurer Corey Kemp, a member of Street's administration, was sentenced to 10 years in jail after being found guilty on 27 corruption-related charges in May 2005. Additional prosecutions of members of Street's administration took place in the wake of the Kemp conviction.

In September 2005, a prominent Muslim clergyman, Shamsud-din Ali, in Philadelphia was sentenced to more than seven years in prison on racketeering and other charges. Prosecutors said the cleric, who was once a member of Mayor John F. Street's transition team, used his political connections to obtain dubious loans, donations and city contracts. Mr. Ali was sentenced to 87 months in prison. His conviction was affirmed on July 18, 2007, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (493 F.3d 387).

Leonard Ross, a lawyer and close advisor of Mayor Street, who led a committee trying to develop a crucial piece of city-owned property, was charged with fraud and conspiracy in December 2005, and later pled guilty to the charges.

The race was captured in the documentary film "The Shame of a City," directed by Tigre Hill, which gave viewers an inside look at the campaign.

It should be noted that Street has not as of yet been formally charged with any crime, nor has he ever been identified as having been a target of the long-standing federal investigation.

In November 2006, federal authorities charged that T Milton Street, older brother of John F Street, traded on his last name to obtain lucrative city contracts and failed to pay taxes on more than $2 million in income. It was alleged that soon after Mayor Street took office in 2000, Milton Street began hiring himself out as consultant to companies that thought he could help them get city contracts. One company paid Milton Street, who is a hot dog vendor, $30,000 a month consulting fee. Mayor Street continues to defend his brother's right to pursue city contracts.

Boy Scout controversy

On July 31, 2006, Mayor Street ordered the local Boy Scouts council, Cradle of Liberty Council, to admit gay scout leaders, vacate the city-owned building that it has occupied since 1928, or pay market rent. Although the city subsidizes rental space for more than 75 community and activist organizations, including 14 other youth organizations and several religious groups that have restrictive membership policies, the Mayor took the position that the Boy Scouts were not in compliance with the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

The Bozo the Clown incident

During January, 2007, the Philadelphia news media reported that the Wikipedia article on John F. Street stated that Street, for a four year period in the late 1980s, portrayed the character Bozo the Clown on a Philadelphia television station. Representatives of Mayor Street were forced to issue denials after the story was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer and on local sports radio station WIP. The Wikipedia article was corrected after six days.

Role in 2007 Democratic mayoral primary

On May 15, 2007, the Democratic primary for the office of Mayor was held in which voters had the opportunity to choose Street's likely successor (Street was limited to two terms by the City Charter). Philadelphia has not elected a Republican Mayor in more than sixty years. A five-way primary challenge ensued between former City Councilman Michael Nutter, U.S. Representatives Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah, State Representative Dwight Evans and political novice Tom Knox. Making no secret of his disdain for Nutter who campaigned on platform of political reform and anti-corruption which held out the Street administration as corrupt, Street supported an independent political advocacy group One Step Closer which attacked Nutter. Street was reportedly asked to help raise money for the organization but was unsuccessful. However, One Step Closer was able to air television commercials deemed racially divisive and defamatory by the Nutter campaign. Despite Street's tactics, Nutter won the five-way election with 37% of the vote. That same day, Street's son, Sharif Street also lost his second bid for elected office, an at-large seat in the Philadelphia City Council, in which the younger Street garnered a mere 7% of the vote. Many commentators viewed the Nutter victory as a direct repudiation of Street's tenure as Mayor, with one Inquirer columnist writing: "rare is the twice-elected mayor who is as disliked, distrusted and dismissed as John Street."

iPhone controversy

On June 29th, 2007, Mayor Street—a gadget fan previously known for his love of the Blackberry—was seen camping outside an AT&T Mobility store in Center City for the highly anticipated Apple iPhone, beginning at 3:30 earlier that morning. Later in the day, 22-year-old Larry West (who was running as a write-in candidate for mayor in that year's election) stopped by and asked him, "How can you sit here with 200 murders in the city already?" Street replied, "I'm doing my job." West responded, "In this climate, at this time in this city, you shouldn't be waiting in line for a phone." Street had planned to stay in line for most of the day, waiting for the iPhone to go on sale at 6 p.m. but left at 11:30 a.m., shortly after exchanging comments with West. Street had said he planned to return to his spot. West returned later in the day to protest Street's actions — only to find the mayor still hadn't returned, with a member of his security detail taking his place in line. Another citizen also stopped by and exchanged displeasing remarks with Street before he left at 11:30 a.m. He later came back in line, and was the third to purchase the device in line when the store reopened at 6 p.m. While many citizens have written into local television stations expressing concern over where the Mayor's priorities currently are, the city's two major newspapers editorialized largely in favor of Street. As The Philadelphia Inquirer noted on July 4, 2007, "By camping out for an iPhone, Mayor Street put Philadelphia on the world's radar screen last week - even as he was pilloried in his own town." At the same time, Street has earned praise from techno-philes for not using any special treatment to get an iPhone compared to the staff of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. A blog claimed that four employees from the city's technology office cut in front of the line to buy out an entire store's stock of iPhones while disgruntled customers who camped overnight outside an AT&T store were left phoneless. Mayor Fenty clarified that he was unaware of the purchases and that he was not a candidate for any of the test devices. Even though only 4 phones were purchased, Mayor Fenty ordered that the devices be returned.

Post-mayor career

John Street's mayoral tenure ended on January 7, 2008. Upon leaving office, Street accepted an adjunct faculty position in the Temple University Department of Political Science. That spring, he taught two sections of a class on urban politics. Asked about his transition from public life to academia, the former mayor was quoted as saying, "You know what? I think I'm really going to like it here!"


  • "When I was council president I had a rule that people could sleep on the job. I modified the rule. You could actually sleep in public if you weren't sitting down. I had three people who actually perfected the art of sleeping while standing."
  • I'm having a great day.
  • "The brothers and sisters are running this city!"
  • "I'm not guilty; I'm just black and that is why they are after me " Was the campaign slogan he used to rally supporters with in his successful second term reelection after rumors of corruption in city govt. reached city hall.

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