FBI Bugs Don't Scare Philly Voters

Philadelphia Mayor John Street waves to a crowd during a gay pride event in Philadelphia, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003. AP

FBI raids at City Hall would normally be a knockout punch to a mayor running for re-election.

But for Philadelphia's embattled mayor John Street, the raids, even the discovery of an FBI bug in his office less than a month before voters go to the polls could not have come at a better time.

"I think this is one of the best things that has happened to John Street," says Bruce Crawley, of Philadelphia's African American Chamber of Commerce.

Just as Street's financial records have been reportedly seized as part of an investigation into alleged corruption, the mayor has come from behind in the polls by mobilizing the city's African American community where there is deep suspicion that the timing of the bug and the raids amounts to a smear.

"It looks like political profiling," says Crawley.

From the mayor's standpoint, the manner in which federal investigators have handled this case is anything but Big Brotherly love. He argues this local election has national implications.

"We're very concerned about what we see," says Street.

Street claims the bugging is a part of a national Republican strategy for 2004: a strategy, Democrats say, that led to the California recall and congressional redistricting in Texas.

The mayor's message is resonating with voters.

"I think there are some people here in this city and in this country who are very serious about the presidency and about the electoral votes in Pennsylvania and might be inclined to try to use almost any method in order to seek to get some kind of advantage," says Street.

Street's opponent, Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz, accuses the mayor of trying to change the subject.

"The mayor has made an attempt to turn this into a racial issue," says Katz. "He would rather have people focus on Bush than on Street. And if I was in his position, I would rather have people focused on Bush rather than Street."

Political science professor Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia, says given the FBI's troubled history of targeting such African American leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., the bureau should have known better so close to an election.

"Should John Street win re-election his first thank you should not go to his staff but to the FBI," says Sabato. "The FBI may not look at the calendar in planting bugs and doing their operations, but after this screw up, they ought to really buy a calendar and it ought to have 'Election Day' highly prominent on the calendar."

And that day is just two weeks away - plenty of time for Philadelphia voters to decide who the bug should bite last.
  • Jaime Holguin

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