Name That Mayor

Imagine if a mayor could have this list of accomplishments: -A budget surplus -Rising test scores for K-12 students -A new NFL stadium and a ...
by | October 1, 2007
 

Street Imagine if a mayor could have this list of accomplishments:

-A budget surplus

-Rising test scores for K-12 students

-A new NFL stadium and a new Major League Baseball stadium

-An anti-blight campaign that has removed 200,000 abandoned cars

-A booming downtown, including a new skyscraper that will be the tallest in the city

-A pioneering effort to bring wireless Internet citywide

You don't have to imagine -- the mayor exists. What's more, almost everyone hates him.

That's the paradox of Philadelphia's John Street, who will leave office in January wishing his approval ratings were as high as President Bush's.

Many observers in Philadelphia argue that Street's unpopularity is proof that style matters more than substance in executive leadership. Street has a poor relationship with the press and has never been a great communicator. The adjective most often used to describe him is "prickly," which is never good unless you're a cactus.

Against that backdrop, Street could never recover from the federal corruption probe into his administration, even though no top-level employees went to jail and the mayor himself wasn't personally implicated.

That, anyway, is the viewpoint of Street's defenders. Street's opponents would poke holes in the accomplishments I mentioned. Test scores were up in the schools, but the system couldn't stay within its budget. The anti-blight campaign didn't achieve what it promised. The surplus masks a looming budget crisis. Homicides are way up too.

All of this gets at a bigger question than John Street: On what standards should a big city mayor be judged? If cities are merely judged against their own past or against one another -- if it's alright for their residents to be poorer, their schools worse and their neighborhoods more violent than the rest of the country -- then perhaps Street should receive passing marks.

In rejecting Street, however, Philadelphians seem to be saying that situation isn't acceptable, which is why the next mayor has such a difficult task ahead of him.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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