Milton, Midge and Ed

    So what happens when I leave town for a few days? I come back and find Philadelphia’s ageless rascal, T. Milton Street saying he’ll run for mayor. Would that it were true.

    Nobody has given me more good copy over the years than Milton, the older and ne’er do well brother of former Mayor John Street. Here’s what I wrote when Milton was charged in November, 2006 with dodging taxes and scamming $80,000 from a businessman:

    There’s no more colorful figure in local politics in the past quarter century than the mayor’s brother. He’s been a state legislator (both Democrat and Republican), a truck driver, a street vendor, a wig salesman, and a duckboat entrepreneur.

    While he’s left behind a trail of bad debts and colorful quotes – like calling a mayor “a Mafioso,” a City Council president “a lying bastard” and a congressman “an Uncle Tom” – he’s managed to stay out of serious criminal trouble before now.

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    “I’ve never known Milton to be a crook,” Shawn Fordham, Milton’s nephew by marriage, said yesterday. “Can he talk you out of five dollars? Yes. But that’s his skill. He makes his case, and then you think he needs your last five dollars more than you do.”

    Does it get any better than that?

    I remember in 2003 I’d heard he was setting up a business called Notlim (Milton spelled backwards) and was wired to get a huge city airport contract he wasn’t remotely qualified for.

    I didn’t have a good number for Milton, so I called an attorney listed on the company brochure as Notlim’s “senior counsel.”

    “It says I’m what?” the attorney said when I described the brochure. I asked him to see what he could find out.

    Five minutes later the phone rang. It was Milton.

    “Dave, what are you doing calling all around and asking questions about my business, and you don’t ask me?” he said.

    I told him my old numbers for him weren’t any good, and asked him for his current number.

    “Are you kidding? I don’t want you calling me,” he said.

    That was just the beginning of the fun. His brother, the mayor had to cancel Milton’s airport deal– it was, after all a re-election year – but I was soon hearing that Milton had managed to convince a Vietnamese American businessman that he could sell him the non-existent contract.

    I chased that story for months, and it eventually emerged that Milton had indeed gotten $80,000 from Thanh Nguyen, leading to the 2006 indictment. A jury acquitted Milton of fraud charges stemming from the alleged scam, but nailed him on tax evasion.

    Now he’s out of prison, and at 71, promising he’ll run for mayor. I’m pretty sure this will come to nothing. For starters, it’s no small thing to get 1,000 registered Democrats to sign nominating petitions.

    But we can always hope, and wait to see what Milton comes up with next.

    The other big story that broke in my absence was the separation of Ed and Midge Rendell.

    I’ve always felt public officials deserve to have private lives.

    While I enjoy a good piece of gossip as much as anybody, I don’t think journalists should prey upon elected officials’ marriages or romantic pursuits unless they conflict with their public duties or embody outrageous hypocrisy, like a closeted gay pol embracing anti-gay policies.

    That said, I’ll share this observation.

    When I was in Cleveland for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in the early 90’s, I remember seeing Ed and Midge Rendell in the lobby of a hotel.

    This was at a time when it wasn’t hard to find people saying they knew this or that about their relationship.

    The lobby was pretty empty and I was some distance away, so they didn’t see me. They were in tennis clothes, laughing, and being playfully affectionate with one another.

    I watched them for a moment and turned away, and reflected on how easy it is for us to judge others, and how you never really know what’s in somebody else’s heart.

    I wish them both happiness and good fortune.

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