Philadelphia has made great strides in its evolution when it comes to race relations.

Last month, Michael Nutter was elected the city's third African American mayor. One of the best parts about the campaign was how little race was at the center of the political debate during the primary and general elections. That was a major step forward in a city where race too often has been front and center, on issues big and small.

But despite the big leaps forward, there have been some sad steps backward of late.

Paul Solomon, a black construction worker, cried last week as he told City Council about a white worker he says waved a noose in his face as the two worked on the new Comcast skyscraper. Nooses are a grim reminder of the lynchings of black people that were once so common in this country.

The District Attorney's Office has said it won't file charges against the white worker because of a lack of evidence. It would be worthwhile, though, for investigators to make certain by conducting further interviews.

At least Council did the right thing by passing a measure that bans the display of such hostile symbols. It's sad that such a rule is needed.

Sadder still was Building Trades Council leader Pat Gillespie's performance before Council the day after Solomon's testimony. Gillespie refused to tell Council the racial makeup of the construction unions. Maybe he's afraid the number of minority members could probably be counted on his hands and toes.

City Council backed off a plan to allow nonunion workers in on the Convention Center expansion. In return, the Building Trades need to boost minority membership - a long overdue outcome.

But the most sickening racial development in recent days occurred in Port Richmond.

A black couple planned to move into a home in the mostly white, working-class neighborhood. But some racist Neanderthal smashed windows and painted the walls of the home with stomach-churning messages of hate, including the letters "KKK," the n-word and the phrase "All n- should be hung."

Is this Philadelphia, Pa., or Philadelphia, Miss. - circa 1964?

It goes without saying that there is no place for such a despicable act either here or anywhere else. Police should investigate this hate crime with the same vigor they would if someone had been shot. The wrongdoers must be prosecuted fully.

The upstanding residents of Port Richmond could do themselves a favor and bolster the tight-knit neighborhood's reputation by stepping forward with any information they may have about this heinous crime.

Philadelphia has come a long way when it comes to race relations, but obviously it still has a ways to go. The rest of us shouldn't let the few take this city backward.