GOP dirty tricks in Philly mayors race?

PHILADELPHIA – The FBI admitted on Oct. 7 that it bugged the office of Mayor John Street’s office. Later that day the FBI confiscated Street’s personal e-mailing device. Street said the FBI said he is not the target of a probe. The FBI has since stated that it is investigating the city’s minority business office, and has subpoenaed thousands of pages of city records.

Four days later the Philadelphia media reported that the Democrats had met to consider replacing John Street with another candidate, but an angry Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, said no such meeting had occurred.

“What is happening is Republicans will stop at nothing to try to intimidate and harass African American elected officials,” State Rep. Harold James said. On Oct. 10 Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House minority leader, attended the Columbus Day Parade with Mayor Street and pledged her support. “I have serious questions about why the Bush administration is doing this now,” she said.

Both the Republican and Democratic party officials are watching Philadelphia’s mayoral election closely. Street, a Democrat and the second African American to hold the office, faces Sam Katz, a Republican businessman, for the second time. In 1999 Street won by a margin of only 1 percent.

If they are to carry Pennsylvania in the 2004 presidential elections, the Democratic candidate must amass a 300,000 vote plurality in Philadelphia. Al Gore won the city by a 4-1 ratio and Clinton did even better in 1996, winning by a 5-1 ratio.

The Republicans have targeted Pennsylvania as a “must win” state and George W. Bush has visited here 22 times. Katz has distanced himself from Bush and anything Republican. He calls himself a moderate Republican who supports gay rights, abortion rights and affirmative action.

Recently Katz said, “This idea that I’m some kind of Bushie has no legs. I have no intentions in playing a significant role in presidential politics.” Katz reminds everyone that he was a Democrat until 1990.

Katz’s big issue is cutting the wage tax because, he says, it is the reason residents and businesses have left the city. “Cutting this tax will create more jobs,” he says, echoing Bush.

Both candidates seem to take the same positions on the schools – end the state take-over, support Gov. Ed Rendell’s education budget and reforms, and train better teachers. But Katz admits he supports vouchers.

Street says he’s running on his record as the first mayor to focus on the neighborhoods. He boasts of removing 187,000 abandoned vehicles from residential areas, demolishing 4,106 vacant buildings, cleaning thousands of vacant lots and building or renovating 10,000 housing units.

Street says his administration expanded after school programs and found money for additional childcare programs. He has given big business tax rebates and other deals to keep them in the city but many left anyway. Street’s support for building two new sports stadiums won support from the building trades unions but criticism from education advocates.

With Street’s record and Katz’s lack of experience, why do the polls show Street and Katz in a dead heat with 20 percent of those polled still undecided and where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-1? The primary reason is Republican appeals to racism.

The Republican City Committee sent out postcards to the residents of predominantly white neighborhoods with Katz’s photo and the slogan “Help Sam Katz take back the city.” Or, put more bluntly, “Help the white candidate take back the city from a Black mayor.” Katz says he knew nothing about the postcard and would not have approved it. Both city newspapers support Katz “because new leadership is needed.”

Another reason for Street’s lack of support is his sometimes abrupt and abrasive personality. Many city workers are still angry at the way Street helped former Mayor Rendell cut their workforce and benefits and privatize some jobs. Many of these workers are African Americans who should be the base of his support.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net