New Philly mayor will be put to the test this summer

PHILADELPHIA - John F. Street, the new mayor of the nation's fifth-largest city, has set a blistering pace for his administration.

In the space of four months, Street dispatched an armada of tow trucks to rid the city of 40,000 abandoned cars, announced a site for the new Phillies stadium, personally directed snow removal on streets where plows had never been, sued gun manufacturers, attended dozens of community meetings and promoted healthy eating on the Oprah Winfrey show.

''We've had to do things in the first four months of this administration that some administrations don't get to in four years,'' Street said.

Yet the real challenges don't come until the summer:

The Republicans will hold their national convention in Philadelphia in July, putting the city and its Democratic mayor in the national spotlight. Municipal contracts expire in June. The mayor must solve a funding crisis that threatens to close city schools. And he has to find hundreds of millions for new sports stadiums by the fall.

''This summer is basically going to decide the direction of his administration. If he can get through this summer, he's halfway home free,'' said Democratic political consultant Larry Ceisler.

''He hasn't had to do any heavy lifting yet,'' said Ken Snyder, who was fired as Street's spokesman earlier this year after clashing with the mayor's chief of staff.

Snyder's messy public dismissal was one of the few missteps of the young administration. The others have likewise come in the area of human relations - never a strong suit of the notoriously prickly Street, who earned a reputation in the 1970s as being quick with his fists.

Two months after Snyder's departure, Street fired the aviation director of the Philadelphia airport and had him escorted from his office by police officers. Alfred Testa Jr. complained that the way he was treated had made him feel ''embarrassed'' and ''filthy.''

On Monday, Street provoked outrage after abruptly walking out on some 400 community activists who had prodded him to talk about his plans to erase blight. Street said he had been invited to give a report on his first 100 days in office, and complained he felt ''set up.''

The next day, as lawmakers in Harrisburg were passing the state budget, Street called a news conference to warn that city schools would have to close unless the state came up with an additional $64 million. Legislative leaders angrily complained that Street had not even asked them for the money until a budget deal had already been reached.

Randall Miller, a political analyst at St. Joseph's University, said these incidents raise questions about Street's ''very brusque'' style.

''The style is still a little iffy and, to some people, increasingly worrisome,'' Miller said.

Meanwhile, Street's top adviser, chief of staff Stephanie Franklin-Suber, has drawn criticism from some City Hall insiders as overly demanding and imperious. A Philadelphia Inquirer columnist went so far as to imagine a poem Franklin-Suber might write: ''Please come to my office. You can sit on the stool/And watch me, in awe, while I ponder, then rule.'')

Her supporters, however, describe Franklin-Suber as intelligent and hardworking and say her critics can't stomach a strong black woman.

In any event, most Philadelphians are probably more concerned about whether their trash gets picked up on time. Street has made neighborhood rejuvenation a priority.

''From our perspective, it's exciting to see the focus on neighborhoods,'' said Roger Zepernick, who leads a community group in a poor, crime-ridden section of the city dubbed the Badlands.

Patricia Higgins, who has lived on Manor Street in the city's Manayunk section all of her 54 years, was pleased the mayor sent snowplows there for the first time ever. ''It really helped out a lot. It really did,'' she said.

It remains to be seen whether he can solve the more complex issues facing the city, such as restructuring the city's burdensome tax system, improving schools and reversing a decades-long loss in population.

If he fails to address those problems, ''then he's been little more than a guardian of the status quo,'' Snyder said. ''I hope for the sake of Philadelphians that doesn't happen.''

On the Net: Street's campaign site:

Philadelphia City Government


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