Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Have you forgotten, Philadelphia, about what John Street did?

Back in 2003 (but it seems like about two decades ago) there was a very popular country song called "Have You Forgotten" by a singer named Darryl Worley. Actually, the premise of the song was a tad ridiculous and ripped from the headlines of Fox News -- conflating the war in Iraq with 9/11 in a major way. That said, the broader point is true: That Americans have an amazing capacity to forget events -- especially political events -- that happened just a couple of short years ago.

Especially in Philadelphia.

Let's consider the case of John Street, ex-mayor and -- apparently when I wasn't paying attention -- political elder statesmen.

For the last couple of months, the press in Philadelphia has been fawning over the Street-fueled notion that the Democrat-turned-independent, who was in City Hall from 2000 through the start of 2008, is getting back in the game, either challenging his long-time nemesis Mayor Nutter or running for City Council at-large, a ploy that would probably succeed because of a quirk in the city's election law and the weakness of the city's Republican Party. (Once on City Council, the theory goes, he might even be able to exploit some of his old relationships to become Council president, as he was in the 1990s.)

But virtually none of the stories have stressed what should be in the first two paragraphs, and probably the first sentence, of any article speculating about a Street comeback: That he presided over one of the most corrupt administratiions in Philadelphia history.

Have you forgotten, Philadelphia, that Street's top fundraiser and closest political ally, attorney Ron White, was indicted on corruption charges for showering Street's city treasurer with gifts while winning massive amounts of city business for himself and his clients? (White died of pacreatic cancer before his case went to trial.) The indictment stated:

The mayor instructed his staff that if White or companies he proposed appeared qualified for city work, "the staff members should award the city business White sought and provide White with inside information .... regarding the operations of city agencies otherwise unavailable to the public," the indictment said.

Have you forgotten, Philadelphia, that the city treasurer, Corey Kemp, is still serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for selling his office under Street?

Have you forgotten, Philadelphia, that Street and his aides steered major city banking and bond business to Commerce Back at the same time that Street was asking bank officials for a good deal on a mortgage? Relatives of Street and a top City Hall aide also sought sweetheart deals with Commerce. Two officials of Commerce Bank were eventually convicted in the corruption scandal.

Have you forgotten, Philadelphia, how Street never adequately explained why he received a mysterious $10,000 check from an insurance company that received city business?

Gave you forgotten, Philadelphia, that Street's former law partner Leonard Ross pleaded guilty to corruption charges that included misusing his position as head of the Penn's Landing redevelopment authority?

Have you forgotten, Philadelphia, that there is much, much more -- that well over a dozen people (I wasn't able to track down the final tally) were ultimately convicted of criminal charges related to Street's mayorality, and that the constant scandals harmed the city's efforts to curb its day-to-day problems like failing schools and rampant schools.

Apparently we have forgotten, since the prospect of a Street comeback is being taken very seriously -- something I could not have predicted when he slinked out of office in January 2008. The comeback talk is even more bizarre when one considers that the subsequent Nutter administration, though flawed, has been arguably the least corrupt administration in modern city history. Indeed, you have to think the buffoonery of Street's older brother, the convicted tax dodger T. Milton Street, and his mayoral primary bid was a clever ploy to make John Street look Churchill-esque in comparison.

Don't be suckered -- to be fooled not once but twice by the corruption of John Street would be a shame on the city well beyond anything that Lincoln (Philadelphia is "corrupt and content") Steffens could have ever imagined.