Among the 4,000 or so songs on Mayor Street's iPod is one, by the Temptations, that carries particularly special meaning for him these days. In his mind, he says, it's the one that most accurately reflects the race to fill his shoes.
The song: "Ball of Confusion."
"I think voters are very much in play - a lot of them," Street says.
A politician with tried and tested skills - Street likes to tout his 14-0 record in winning elections - the mayor is among the city's most recognized public officials but has been strangely quiet in the weeks leading up to the May 15 primary election. He has endorsed nobody. His biggest role yet would seem to be as Michael Nutter's would-be opponent in TV ads that Nutter, one of five Democrats in the race, launched last month.
As voters prepare to cast ballots for a Democratic nominee who may wind up succeeding Street in Suite 215 of City Hall, the two-term mayor yesterday provided a glimpse of how he sizes up the race to date.
"Voters are still confused," he said in a lunchtime interview in a conference room next to his office. "And candidates haven't fully adjusted to running campaigns with no money."
The result: A high number of Philadelphians who say they are undecided in their pick for mayor, with less than two weeks to go to the primary.
As he sees it, the overall campaign, with five major contenders, has been oddly quiet.
Campaign posters are scarcer than in past elections, he said. There are no vans rolling through neighborhoods and blaring candidates' names. Even campaign buttons, he said, are hard to spot.
When he ran for office in 2003, he said, he had the 'Polaroid Posse' - a team of five to 10 campaign aides who snapped maybe 1,000 or even 2,000 photos a day of Street with supporters at a neighborhood rally or other events. "We'd go out with a couple of hundred packs of film a day."
By contrast, today there's "not a lot of excitement around."
The reason is twofold, said Street, who was a city councilman for 19 years before becoming mayor in 2000.
First, he said, it's the candidates themselves. "I don't think they have exactly lit the fires of the public." Whether it's the issue of crime and a question of more police, or oversight of the city school district, their answers seem indistinguishable.
"I talk to people who say they all sound alike, and a lot of people just don't believe they can do the things they say they can do," Street said.
Second, it's money - and the lack of it.
With the city's first-ever campaign finance caps in effect for this election, all but Tom Knox, a self-made millionaire who is financing his race, are challenged to raise the big campaign money that financed previous mayoral campaigns.
"Every dime they could raise, they're using it to buy TV, and if you use it to buy TV, then you have to scrimp on all the other stuff," Street said.
"I don't think I have any political buttons. You have any buttons?" he asked. Handed a small orange one with a picture of the Liberty Bell, from U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's campaign, Street said it was the first Fattah button he had seen.
As a candidate, it was not unusual for the mayor to sprint to six or so separate fund-raisers a day, each pulling in $25,000 or $50,000 for his campaign.
But with city rules that restrict how much donors can give if they still want to be eligible for city contracts, fewer people want to give. Instead, Street said, lawyers, developers, and other traditional donors are hosting "meet-and-greets" where candidates directly ask potential contributors for money - a time-consuming routine for the candidate.
This is also the first mayor's race to take place under new city rules that bar campaign posters from being taped, stapled or otherwise attached to utility poles, streetlights, and other public property. Those rules went into effect in late 2003.
With many voters saying in polls they are undecided at the moment, the so-called political committees making independent expenditures stand to have significant sway, Street said. "Anybody with any kind of a message has an opportunity to impact the bottom line of the election."
Asked about his own effort to influence the outcome, Street repeated what he said months ago, that he "might" endorse someone, or might not. "I haven't decided yet. I still think the race is in flux. I don't need to be in it if it's not going to serve any purpose."
Those close to the mayor say that if he does get involved, it will be to back U.S. Rep. Bob Brady or Fattah. Street shared a stage with Brady on Monday night at a cocktail fund-raiser for the Democratic City Committee, which Brady chairs.
Fattah quipped last week said he hadn't talked to Street "in a couple of months."
In the interview, Street shrugged off Nutter's decision early in his TV campaign to air ads that suggested a Nutter administration would be the opposite of Street's. "That's his business. It's his money and he's got to figure out a message he thinks works. . . . We'll see what happens," Street said.
He also said he doubted that Sam Katz, the Republican nominee Street defeated in 1999 and 2003, would run again in the general election. Speculation that Katz might was fueled last month when he switched his party registration to non-affiliated.
"I think he likes the attention and everything, but I don't think he'll decide to run."
As for Street's plans, he said he was still considering a bid for Congress - but only if there's a vacancy. He won't challenge Brady or Fattah, both sitting congressmen, for their seats.
If the mayor has other plans in the works, he isn't saying. For now, this is as far as he'll go: "On the seventh of January, I am going to get up in the morning, maybe around 4:30 or 5 o'clock - I'm sleeping late - and I'm going to go [he feigns a yawn and stretches his arms from side to side], and I'm going to say, 'I wonder what I'm going to do today.' "