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Surprise visit to bid Council adieu

Despite frequent clashes, the mayor got two standing ovations.

Mayor Street made a surprise appearance before City Council yesterday for a sentimental farewell.

"I decided to stop in today primarily to say thank you," Street said to a body of which he was a member for 19 years, but that he has often warred with during eight years as mayor.

Street and Council put their differences aside last week to resolve a standoff with organized labor over expansion of the Convention Center. Perhaps last Thursday's marathon negotiating session in Council President Anna C. Verna's office made both sides wistful.

Street was greeted with standing ovations at the beginning and end of his 12-minute speech.

"This is the end of a special period of time in my life," said Street, who served seven years as Council president before becoming mayor. He read a short list of accomplishments, but said he had no prepared remarks and kept it brief.

He gave credit to Council for authorizing his administration to borrow up to $300 million for his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. "As a consequence, we have neighborhoods where property values are through the roof," Street said. "No one talks about abandoned property anymore."

He also praised Council for increasing school district funding by 36 percent. "Our schools are better than they've been in my memory," he said.

And he thanked Council for supporting the arts and Wireless Philadelphia, his initiative to provide wireless computer access throughout the city, particularly to those who could not otherwise afford it. While EarthLink, the wireless provider installing the network, has run into problems recently, Street predicted a Wi-Fi program in Philadelphia "that's second to none."

He said he also was thankful for the city's DROP program, a retirement incentive that allows city employees to collect pension payments in addition to their salary if they stay on beyond their retirement date.

Some have criticized elected officials' use of the program, saying the law was an incentive to keep senior employees, and their expertise, in important positions.

Street, who is due $451,626 in pension payments when he leaves office in January, will also collect a monthly pension check of $9,641.

"When I walk out of here," he said, "I actually feel financially secure."

Street's only announced plan is to teach a course on politics at Temple University in the spring, but he said he would stay involved in city issues.

"Local government is not like the Super Bowl," he said. "We just keep playing the game."