Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street recently criticized current Mayor Michael Nutter as not being black enough to effectively govern Philadelphia. Street chairs the Philadelphia Housing Authority Board, a body which came under a great deal of criticism for its lack of oversight in the Philadelphia Housing Authority scandal. The scandal involved four sexual harassment cases against PHA chief Carl R. Greene.
Mayor Nutter said some weeks ago he found it hard to believe that Street and other council members didn’t know about the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by Philadelphia’s insurer to settle the lawsuits. Street bristled at the notion and criticized Nutter’s leadership.
“He is not a black mayor. He’s just a mayor with dark skin,” Street told Philadelphia Inquirer’s Paul Davies.
Old School Visions
Street’s old-school vision of political apartheid still lingers in parts of Philadelphia where New Black Panther Party members were indicted for interfering in national elections by the Justice Department. Not ironically, Street’s exhortations echo the legacy of white political nepotism, racism, and demagoguery which plagued American cities decades ago.
White and black voters believed Mayor Nutter would be mayor of all the people when he was elected. Nutter has a 65 percent approval rating among white respondents to a Pew research poll of Philadelphians. His poll ratings were 50-50 among blacks.
Philadelphia Population Stabilizes
Philadelphia is on the crest of a wave. After a period of declining population, the city successfully challenged the 2000 Census population figures, and showed a slight increase in population. Does the city need to alienate any its citizens by making statements which ignite racial divisions?
What worked or was necessary in the 60s era is a counterweight on the state of race relations today. In criticizing Mayor Nutter by saying he’s not “a neighborhood-oriented” type of Mayor, Street is using a sort of under-handed race code. At a time when color grading in politics is fading, why should Street demean Nutter by emphasizing color line politics?
This Way to Detroit
Perhaps former Mayor Street is trying to march Philadelphia in the direction of Detroit with 83 percent of its nearly 1 million people being African-American? We know how well that worked, with an acceleration of “white flight” unmatched anywhere.
Where’s the benefit of whipping up resentment against Mayor Nutter in Philadelphia’s ethnic neighborhoods? Is Street trying to tell Philadelphia that crime will magically disappear from their streets if Philadelphia had a Mayor who was more like himself? News flash-it didn’t and it won’t.
Sexy Politics or Real Politics?
It’s not sexy in politics these days to favor sensible governance over emotional appeals to our worst selves. While Mayor long ago, Street was at odds with then Council Member Michael Nutter because of Nutter’s proposed “stop and frisk” anti-crime proposal. The two also clashed on tax policies and new ethics laws that Nutter proposed in the wake of a federal corruption investigation into a city “pay to play” scheme.
Philadelphia needs to get hold of itself. While overall crime rates are reported as having declined in other big cities, the Philadelphia crime rate holds steady. Thirty-five percent of people who have moved from Philadelphia cite crime as the reason.
Homicide, Poverty, Unemployment
Mayor Nutter has made progress in curtailing the homicide rate, still high but down to 305 from an apex of 503 in 1990.The drag of a 25 percent poverty rate and an unemployment rate that went from 7.2 % in 2008 to 10.6 at the end of 2009 are factors which should preclude color scales from discussions of city governance. After all, voters are not voting on the choice of drapes for the Mayor’s office.