What gives with Street's legacy?
It took eight years to build, but only months to dismantle. Barely out of office, former Mayor John F. Street has seen his legacy fade fast in the early days of the Nutter administration.
It took eight years to build, but only months to dismantle.
Barely out of office, former Mayor John F. Street has seen his legacy fade fast in the early days of the Nutter administration.
The citywide wireless Internet network he championed appears doomed. Safe and Sound - the city-funded child-welfare organization his wife once ran - is disbanding amid withering criticism from the Nutter administration.
And Street's signature program, the blight-fighting Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, has been suspended on Nutter's orders until a team of forensic auditors can review part of the program.
Though he declined repeated interview requests, Street made it clear in a statement to The Inquirer that he was concerned by the treatment his highest-profile initiatives had received in the Nutter administration.
"No program is perfect, and if you look hard enough you can always find things to complain about," Street told The Inquirer through his aide at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, where he is chairman of the board. "I stand by these programs as having been good for thousands of Philadelphians and worthy of continued support.
"I can only hope that the new administration will be fair to the program recipients who are depending on the services, and the managers involved who I believe are dedicated public servants who only want to do a good job for the citizens of Philadelphia."
Nutter flatly denied that he was deliberately targeting his predecessor's pet programs, bristling at a news conference when a reporter asked whether he was trying to damage Street's legacy by suspending NTI.
"I would say that is, at least for today, the most absurd thing that I've heard. This is a very serious issue. It has nothing to do with personalities, or, you know, ideas, or legacies or anything else," Nutter said.
The question was asked because Nutter and Street simply do not like each other, politically or personally. Their long-running feud culminated in Nutter's mayoral campaign, in which he ran as the anti-Street, a tactic that helped him surge to the top of the five-candidate field.
In a phone interview, Nutter said Street's initiatives were taking hits because there were preexisting problems with each of them.
"It's not like we went looking for these issues or problems," he said.
The mayor is right about that. It would be hard to ignore the flaws that have come to light recently with all three of Street's big legacy programs.
EarthLink Inc., which built and maintained the citywide wireless system, bailed out of the municipal-wireless business, leaving the city without a network operator.
The recent discovery of lax accounting at the Redevelopment Authority, which ran NTI's property-acquisition program, left his administration with little choice but to suspend the program, Nutter said.
And Nutter said he was "shocked" when Safe and Sound voted to dissolve itself in April. That followed a funding crisis that was created when Mayor Street promised the organization a big budget increase that Nutter and City Council refused to grant.
Still, more could have been done to preserve Street's programs, if Nutter had been so inclined.
Citywide Wi-Fi, for instance, could well have been saved with a minimal up-front investment of public dollars. And though the Nutter administration was also leery of the possibility of longer-term costs, it seems likely Street would have found a way to preserve the system.
And though few dispute that there were legitimate problems with NTI accounting and the Safe and Sound budget, some have questioned whether Nutter's aggressive response to both situations - a forensic audit and an appeal for a state probe - was warranted.
"He's decided to have a big investigation," Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell said, referring to the NTI audit. "We'll see where it goes. Whether or not it should go this far, I don't know."
It is commonplace for new mayors to shift funding and priorities, often at the expense of their predecessor's pet projects. And even some Street loyalists say it's not reasonable to expect Nutter would champion Street's projects, at least not without repackaging them as his own.
"It's hard for me to believe that Mayor Nutter would be going after so-called legacy projects out of spite," said Phil Goldsmith, who served as the city's managing director under Street. "Politically, it would not behoove Mayor Nutter to gratuitously get rid of programs just because they came under the prior administration."
And Goldsmith points out that even with NTI suspended and Safe and Sound dissolving, many of Street's accomplishments endure. The blighted blocks that were transformed by NTI remain, as do many of the after-school programs that Safe and Sound promoted.
"Regardless of what people think, every mayor stands on the shoulders of the preceding mayor," Goldsmith said.
Still, the frosty history between Nutter and Street creates room for questions.
"What saddens me is that there has not been good relations, and that's been the case for a long period of time," Goldsmith said.
Although Nutter made a guest appearance at Street's Temple University class this semester, there haven't been other obvious signs of a thaw in the relationship.
"I'm not sure John Street sits back there and frets too much about it," Goldsmith said. "I think he's having another great day."