Philadelphia Mayor John Street's Christmas present to himself is going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of his constituents. He has decided to collect, retroactively, a raise for city officials that he had opposed and refused to collect. Since he's taking it all now in one lump sum, the increase in salary amounts to more than $111,000.
That brings his total cash and prizes for 2008 -- a year during which he'll serve in office for a total of six days before his successor is sworn in -- to $678,327. That includes his lifetime six-figure pension and $451,626 he'll collect as a participant in the city's Deferred Retirement Option Program.
Just like the cost of living increase, Street publicly opposed the DROP program. Opposing salary increases and nice benefits plays well politically, but cashing in so richly after temporarily holding the high ground just makes Street look sleazy.
Here at Governing, we don't think Street has been as bad a mayor as he's been generally reputed. As Josh Goodman points out in his profile of incoming Mayor Michael Nutter, Street's administration has been marked by scandals, but they haven't touched the mayor himself, and Street can boast of a number of real accomplishments.
But Street's big retroactive payday will only add to Philadelphia's relief in seeing him go. It's undeniably true that Street could have earned far more money in any private sector position with anything approaching the amount of responsibility he holds as mayor. And he's been bankrupt twice. But those issues are not the point.
Everyone in public life understands the sensitivity involved in making what are still pretty good dollars out of taxpayer funds. And it's the small, personal scandals that rile up voters much more than bigger, more complicated issues. With the bill for retiree health benefits alone approaching $3 trillion, public employees in general are going to have to be more sensitive (4th item) about how their income and benefits appear to the public.
Street's example won't help the cause of those who would argue public workers deserve what they can get.