John Street, Again

By Philadelphia Weekly Editorial Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 29, 2003

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Four years ago, John Street was this newspaper's choice to become Philadelphia's next mayor. We believed he had the conviction, determination and inner strength to make life better for the citizens of this city--particularly those residents who needed help most.

Four years later, we believe John Street has proved our judgment right. He has improved the quality of life in the neighborhoods in substantive ways. And he has made this a better city for everyone in the process.

The mayor's Operation Safe Streets has ended the embarrassing and gloomy era of open-air drug dealing in this city. Writer Steve Volk, who has reported frequently on Safe Streets for PW, has knocked on hundreds of doors to gauge the program's effectiveness. Overwhelmingly, the residents of the targeted areas have expressed to him their appreciation of Safe Streets. Many have told him that because of the extra policing they no longer feel like prisoners in their own homes.

The cost of liberating neighborhoods and children from the scourge of drug dealing is worth every penny that's been spent. We expect the Safe Streets program to morph and adjust to new challenges and changing conditions as it moves into the next phase. With John Street at the helm, we feel confident the program won't be abandoned.

Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has proven to be one of the most popular commissioners with rank-and-file officers and citizens that this city's ever seen. We don't like it that his relationship with the mayor's opponent seems strained at best, irreparable at worst. The pairing of Street and Johnson has been a potent plus for the city.

Mayor Street has also won our admiration for aggressively pursuing the problem of abandoned cars. His dramatic "40,000 in 40 Days" announcement sent a message to residents that unregistered and uninspected vehicles would not be tolerated. More than 180,000 cars--many ransacked or set on fire long ago--were hauled away at his insistence.

Mayor Street also established the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), the first program in the city's modern era poised to attack blight and decay in the city's neglected and troubled neighborhoods. While some leaders in Philadelphia's past would focus on Center City and ignore blight in nearby outposts, Mayor Street has been unafraid to shine a very large spotlight on neighborhood decay. He has refused to become a mayor for Center City only, a decision that arguably has made him unpopular in certain power-broker circles.

This mayor has proved he puts children first. Two years ago he pioneered the Children's Investment Strategy (CIS), a citywide effort to increase after-school programs and youth development activities.

When brokering the stadium deal, he insisted the teams make a 30-year, $60 million commitment to programs serving children.

He created the Lead Abatement Strike Team (LAST) to eliminate hazards that could bring about lead poisoning in children.

The mayor's risky state-city partnership deal led to the hiring of Paul Vallas, a respected figure in public education, as school district CEO. Vallas' gospel takes a page out of the Street hymnbook: smaller class sizes, harder-working teachers, better facilities and regular after-school programs. Vallas has also followed Mayor Street's lead in insisting that parents take more responsibility for the education of their children.

There are changes we'd like to see made in the mayor's second term.

We believe Mayor Street's alleged "prickly personality" problem is a myth of his own making. It is a public perception he needs to dispel, and we strongly encourage him to do just that over the next four years.

In a recent meeting with the PW editorial staff, the mayor was downright affable-- alternately charming, funny and self- deprecating. He even told jokes.

But in public forums, he often seems to care little what people think of his personality--preferring instead to be respected for his innovation and work ethic.

The mayor would be well advised to lighten up. The problems in this city can weigh heavy on the psyche, and we could only benefit from a mayor who flashes his sense of humor in our direction on occasion.

More important, the mayor needs to directly address the decades-long "pay-to-play" problem that plagues this city. Though we agree with Mayor Street that the federal probe has been insensitively and suspiciously conducted, there is no doubt that we need to change the way the contracts game is played.

In his 25 years of public life, the mayor has demonstrated an ability and willingness to change and transform himself. He has gone from a brawling activist to a disciplined City Council president to a mayor determined to improve the quality of life for children and neighborhood residents.

We have faith that Mayor Street will make much-needed changes in the "pay-to-play" system, and will do so with the same resolve he's shown in driving home the programs he cares about most.

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