That Philadelphia Feeling

Philadelphia Mayor John Street, center, celebrates his re-election with supporters at his campaign headquarters in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2003. Philadelphians elected Street to a second term Tuesday four weeks after an FBI bug was discovered in his City Hall office.
AP
This city loves an underdog.

So in a curious sort of way, the FBI investigation of Mayor John Street was exactly what the Democrat's re-election campaign needed.

When Philadelphians found their powerful, sometimes arrogant leader on the ropes - dogged by reporters, hounded by federal agents and forced to proclaim innocence in the face of a mysterious probe the FBI refused to explain - they reacted as they often do when someone looks down and out: They rooted for him.

Street, the city's second black mayor, trounced Republican candidate Sam Katz to win a second term Tuesday, overcoming last month's bombshell that the FBI had bugged his City Hall office.

Having defeated Katz four years ago in the closest mayoral contest since 1911, Street was once again locked in a tight battle with the GOP businessman when police found the bug during what they called a routine sweep of the mayor's office Oct. 7.

Democrats claimed the listening device was a Republican dirty trick intended to damage a prominent black Democrat - a message that clearly resonated with voters in this heavily Democratic city split almost evenly between blacks and whites.

"I will be the first one to admit that when we started this campaign, it would not have crossed my mind that I would be standing here enjoying (this) margin of victory," Street said in his victory speech.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Street had 259,298 votes, or 58 percent; Katz had 183,162 votes, or 41 percent.

Defeated in his third try for mayor, Katz lamented how the bugging controversy derailed his campaign. "The ball bounces in certain ways, and neither of us expected the ball to bounce in this campaign the way it did," Katz said.

Even in the cutthroat world of Philadelphia politics, the rematch between Street and Katz stood out as particularly nasty. Campaign office windows were broken, a Street supporter allegedly brandished a gun at Katz and his wife, and Katz was heckled at campaign events.

Although federal authorities said their investigation of Street's office had nothing to do with the election, Democrats portrayed it as a Republican plot to pave the way for President Bush to win Pennsylvania next year.

"People evidently thought this was about (U.S. Attorney General) John Ashcroft in a fantasy world they lived in," said Brian Tierney, co-chairman of the Katz campaign.

A federal official has told The Associated Press that Street is a "subject" of the probe. The legal term is used to describe people whose conduct is within the scope of a criminal probe, although they are not necessarily suspected of breaking the law. Authorities have declined to say what they are investigating, but agents have subpoenaed thousands of pages of records having to do with city contracts.

"They've made him downright charismatic overnight," former President Clinton said during a rally last week.

Voters clearly agreed, giving the benefit of the doubt to Street, a former hot-dog vendor and hot-tempered liberal activist who spent millions of dollars during his first term on programs aimed at tearing down deserted buildings, hauling away abandoned cars and redeploying police to areas that had been surrendered to drug dealers.

He also unsuccessfully tried to prevent the state from seizing control and partially privatizing the city's school district, although his protests led to the scaling back of a Republican plan to turn over a larger part of the district to the for-profit company Edison Schools.

By Michael Rubinkam