Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street has kept a low profile since leaving office in 2008, but, in a rare appearance, this week he gave a spirited defense of indicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.
It was at event Thursday evening for retiring state Senator Shirley Kitchen who wants to pass the baton to his son, Sharif Street. The standing-room-only crowd of elected officials and community activists from North Philly seemed glad to see the former mayor.
Officially, Street was there to introduce Kitchen, but he also urged the audience to stand by Fattah, who sat right behind him as he spoke.
“It’d be disgraceful if a person gives us all that service, and we turn our back on him when he’s under attack,” he said, raising his voice. “It would be disgraceful!”
Fattah and four others are facing corruption charges. Among other things, prosecutors say the congressman used $600,000 in federal and charitable funds to pay back an illegal loan to his failed 2007 mayoral campaign.
Fattah insists he’s innocent, but after winning re-election easily for 20 years, his legal problems have motivated challengers. Four other Democrats, including state Rep. Dwight Evans, are running against him in the April primary.
Street had harsh words for those who would take advantage of Fattah’s situation.
“Who do people think they are, they’re gonna turn and take him out just like that? I don’t think so,” he said to some applause.
Later, Street insisted he wasn’t calling out any of Fattah’s challengers in particular — not even Evans who ran against him for mayor in 1999.
Evans and others have a right to run, Street said. Voters just needed a reminder Fattah is innocent until proved guilty.
“The thing that bothers me is a number of people who misunderstand and have a lack of appreciation for the fact, in this great country, we the people have a thing called presumption of innocence,” he said.