John F Street, former Mayor of Philadelphia

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John F Street
former mayor of Philadelphia
By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

12 March 2006: Elected in 1999 and again in 2003, Philadelphia’s Mayor John F. Street carries with him a work ethic derived from his impoverished childhood. Though dubbed one of America’s worst mayors by Time Magazine in 2005, Street has participated in Democrat-led turnaround of the city over several decades as both city council president and mayor. Having provided jobs, regenerated neighbourhoods and halted educational decline, Street now sees the internet as making for a more prosperous Philadelphia.

7 November 2007 update: Michael Nutter will replace John Street as mayor of Philadelphia.

John Franklin Street was born in 1945 into rural poverty in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he worked on his parents’ small farm from a small age. He graduated from Conshohocken High School and then studied English at the Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. In 1975 he gained a Juris Doctorate from Temple University Law School, working to pay tuition as a street vendor. Following his graduation, Street undertook clerkships with the Common Pleas Court and the United States Department of Justice. In his first professional job, Mayor Street taught English at an elementary school and, later, at the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center. He also practiced law privately prior to entering into public service.

The Mayor began his public career as a community activist. He was then elected to Philadelphia City Council in 1979. For nearly 20 years, Street represented the city's Fifth Council District. Diverse economically and racially, the Fifth District comprises 11 wards in North Central Philadelphia and Center City and encompasses some of the city's most affluent addresses, such as Rittenhouse Square, and some of the city's most depressed areas.

He was chosen unanimously by members of the council, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, to serve as its president in 1992, and again in 1996. During his time as City Council President, Street worked to promote community policing and for tougher gun laws. As city council president, Street worked closely with the administration of Mayor Ed Rendell, who now serves as Pennsylvania Governor. The Rendell administration is widely credited with balancing city hall’s books and lowering taxes for the first time in decades, as well as increasing jobs.

Street retired from Philadelphia City Council, as required by the city charter, in 1998 to run for mayor. He was elected 2 November 1999. Mayor Street’s flagship policy in his first term was the Neighbourhood Transformation Initiative, which saw housing renewal schemes and the demolition of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. On entering office, he also inherited some of the worst public schools in America’s system and embarked upon a privatisation programme which saw the worst taken over by the Edison corporation. Philadelphia is also pioneering a city-wide wi-fi network in a bid to reduce IT exclusion among the poor and make the city more attractive to young professionals.

An avid fitness enthusiast, Mayor Street jogs 15 to 20 miles and bicycles between 30 to 40 miles each week. The mayor set up the city Office of Health and Fitness after Philadelphia was dubbed America’s fattest city by Men’s Fitness magazine.

Street’s mayoralty also came to the attention of Time Magazine, who in 2005 named him as one of America’s worst mayors. The mayor’s ranking is said to reflect his indirect involvement in a corruption scandal arising from his 2003 re-election bid which saw former city treasurer Corey Kemp jailed for 10 years. It was alleged, though never proven as the main defendant died before the case came to trial, that Street’s campaign financiers had solicited donations from prospective contractors for the city’s public works. There is no evidence that Street himself was involved, though the FBI admitted to bugging his office during its investigations.

The mayor’s nemesis on the council, Michael Nutter, is expected to run for mayor in 2007 on the Democrat ticket. Nutter himself has been implicated in a scandal over his involvement in cancelling a trolleybus route in his district on behalf of certain lobby groups, though he and the mayor have campaigned together for a city-wide public smoking ban.

Under the city’s 1951 home rule charter, which also saw the city assume the functions of the county, Philadelphia’s mayors may serve no more than two terms of four years. The city council consists as seventeen members, 10 elected from single districts and seven on at-large basis. The city also administers the first tier of law courts for the city, the Court of Common Pleas and the Municipal Court.

Mayor Street is married to wife Naomi and has four children. He is also a Seventh Day Adventist.

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