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Redrawing of battle lines for Nutter, John Street?

John F. Street - the former mayor, former City Council president, and former person of interest in at least two federal probes - just might form a mayoral campaign this week.

John F. Street - the former mayor, former City Council president, and former person of interest in at least two federal probes - just might form a mayoral campaign this week.

The professional name-caller in me relishes the prospect.

Imagine the possibilities:  Nutter vs. Street, Part XVII, The Final Reckoning, Redux. The inevitable racial tension. The bitterly flung accusations of corruption and incompetence. The sheer visceral disdain of two powerful men who have fought it out for years going at it one more time.

These are quality story lines. But you couldn't call them original.

It's true that Nutter and Street have never run for the same office at the same time. It feels like it, though, given their long campaigns to destroy each other politically since a falling out in the late 1990s.

Few mysteries remain unplumbed in this warped relationship.

Let me distill Street's campaign into 10 words for you: Mayor Nutter is a bungling elitist who ignores the poor.

And here's Nutter's countermessage: People, this is John Street we're talking about. JOHN STREET.

Skeptics doubt that Street really wants back in. After all, he grew so bored as mayor last time that he spent his final year in office doing ... well, nobody really knows what he was doing.

But don't underestimate the motivating power of hate. Street circa 2011 is fired up enough to have changed his party registration from "D" to "I," enough to end a comfortable retirement for the sole purpose of knocking Nutter down a few pegs.

Like George W. Bush, Street's image has enjoyed something of a renaissance since he left office. Nothing washes away the sins of politicians past better than time, a poor economy, and the missteps of successors.

Since late last year, Street has used his recovering stature to land some damaging blows. Yes, it was crass and divisive when he said Nutter was not a black mayor, just "a mayor with dark skin." But his remarks served to draw attention to the real problems Nutter has with many African American voters.

And Street cogently criticized Nutter's handling of the recession, making a case that the mayor through his tax initiatives and the nature of his spending cuts balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and the working class.

But the debate has been one-sided for a reason. So far, Nutter has kept quiet, figuring that to engage Street was to encourage him.

That silence won't last if Street does run. Expect Nutter to come out hitting. Hard. And let's not forget: This is a guy who knows how to mess John Street up.

After all, Nutter won office in 2007 by taking a wrecking ball to the departing Street administration. He tapped into a very real public disgust with Street's hands-off approach to the crime wave gripping the city, as well as the sense that Street's cronies had "been ripping us off for years," as Nutter's ads put it.

Since then, Street has given Nutter additional ammo.

Did you know, for instance, the former mayor was into DROP way before it was cool? He cashed his $563,000 check in 2007, making him the first elected official to receive a deferred retirement option plan payout.

Street also paved the way for those dreamy 24-hour retirements available only to select city officials. A chosen few were given permission to retire for a day, collect their lump sums, and get rehired the very next morning. Street, a true DROP innovator, got the city solicitor to sign off on the first of those deals in 2004.

Perhaps Councilman Frank Rizzo can serve as a consultant to the Street campaign on changing voter attitudes toward DROP.

And then there is Street's seven-year reign as chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which ended in March after federal officials mercifully dissolved the board and took over the profligate agency. Now, the FBI is poking into Street votes that directed millions in legal fees to his son's law firm.

Ah, just like old times.

Still, few would argue that Nutter's first term has been so magnificent that he should be awarded a second after facing no more than Street's comical big brother Milton in the primary and token Republican opposition in the fall.

John Street, whatever his faults, is a candidate to take seriously if he does choose to run. He has a constituency, he has the experience, and he has political chops that Nutter can only dream of.

That doesn't mean he'll win. It doesn't mean he'll come close. But it does guarantee a long, tawdry slog between now and Nov. 8.