THE POLITICS of race are rarely played with subtle grace here in Philadelphia.

But even in a city known for powerful political punches, former Mayor John Street set a stunning tone this week when he spoke with us about his ongoing role in fomenting potential primary-election challenges for Mayor Nutter next year.

In short, Street dropped the race card like a cinderblock.

Street said a group of men stopped him outside a restaurant on Walnut Street recently and asked, "Do you think we'll ever have a black mayor again?"

"I am not kidding," Street added as our jaws dropped. "I am not making this up. And, I said, this is a problem. They saw me and they thought about a black mayor."

But Nutter? Not so much.

"He's always held himself out as being a kind of postracial, I'm-for-everybody kind of person," Street said. "And I'm telling you in many, many quarters of the African-American community, they don't see him as a black mayor."

A Pew Charitable Trusts poll in February found that Nutter had a 53 percent approval rating.

Broken out by race, 65 percent of white respondents said Nutter was doing a good job while 21 percent disapproved. Among African-Americans, 43 percent said he was doing a good job while 43 percent disapproved.

Street has been talking about potential campaigns in the Democratic primary with his former Republican rival, Sam Katz, and Tom Knox, who finished second behind Nutter in the 2007 primary for mayor. Street said he also spoke with three other people but refused to say who they are.

Street stressed once again that he went two years before he started offering public criticism of Nutter's administration.

PhillyClout has noticed that Street's sharp words for Nutter tend to include a mention that the current mayor has never asked the last mayor for his help.

"He never called me to ask about anything," Street said. "I wasn't expecting to be called. I wasn't sitting by the phone."

Sounds a little resentful, no?

Nutter was clearly ticked off when we ran Street's comments by him. But he stuck to the sort of postracial stance that Street had described earlier in the week.

"I'm the mayor of the city of Philadelphia," Nutter said after a pause. "I serve all our great citizens as best I can every day."

Speaking of Sam Katz . . .

Katz is out stumping for funding to complete a multimedia documentary series on the history of the city, dubbed "Philadelphia, The Great Experiment." He screened the first episode at the Friends of Independence annual meeting last week at Franklin Court's Underground Museum.

And some curious political trinkets were passed around. One was later dropped off at PhillyClout world headquarters.

The blue-and-yellow button - same colors as the city's flag - says "Draft Katz Mayor."

Katz told us he saw the buttons but had nothing to do with them.

Will Rizzo's caddy go to Seventy?

A 1980 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham that belonged to the late Mayor Frank Rizzo will be auctioned tomorrow to raise money to maintain the statue of Rizzo that stands in front of the Municipal Services Building.

Minimum price: $40,000.

The Caddy's black exterior with red pinstripe piping had PhillyClout thinking of the classic version of the Batmobile. Apparently we weren't alone on that.

Zack Stalberg, former Daily News editor and current chief of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said he thinks his organization needs an official vehicle.

"It was going to be a Sherman tank," Stalberg told us yesterday. "This is even better."

Stalberg and Rizzo go way back. Stalberg convinced the mayor in 1973 to take a polygraph test to clear up accusations that he tried to bribe a political rival.

Rizzo failed the test.

The Daily News iconic headline: "Rizzo lied, tests show."

Rizzo's son, Councilman Frank Rizzo, suggested he would like to hook Stalberg up to a polygraph to see if he is really interested in buying the car, which will be auctioned at the Boardwalk Classic Car Auction in Wildwood.

Rizzo said his dad didn't dislike Stalberg and would have been OK with his owning the car. That was, until we told him it would be the Committee of Seventy-mobile.

"Now, I think my father might not like that," Rizzo said.

A Gridiron with no governor?

Gov. Rendell is a notorious prankster who always has time in his busy schedule to bust somebody's chops. So you would figure Rendell would have pretty thick skin when the joke is on him.

Not so.

In this his final year in office, Rendell is once again declaring that he will boycott the annual Gridiron dinner, being put on in Harrisburg Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.

Rendell has skipped the event twice and threatened to skip it in other years, showing up for a few clearly uncomfortable minutes.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma yesterday said the governor is trying to make arrangements to phone in live to the Gridiron or may send a video to be shown.

Quotable:

"Stunning, stunning . . . I think the word is hypocrisy."

- Gov. Rendell, reacting to state Attorney General Tom Corbett, the Republican nominee for governor, suing to overturn the 6-month-old federal health-care-reform law while calling it a "great opportunity" to help people get insurance coverage in a campaign-policy paper this week.

Staff writer John Baer contributed to this report.

Have tips or suggestions? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or e-mail brennac@phillynews.com.

Check out the Clout blog at: www.phillyclout.com.

Have a news tip? Gossip? Suggestion? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4712. Or e-mail phillyclout@phillynews.com.