When we last heard from T. Milton Street Sr., he lost a special election for a state-representative seat by nearly 55 percent of the vote.
Nearly two years later, Street stood outside SEPTA’s Allegheny Station on Tuesday.
There, he explained why he’s again running for mayor despite a landslide primary loss to the incumbent, Michael Nutter, in 2011.
Briefly echoing criticisms he leveled against state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, a likely foe, via Facebook post on Sunday (“If he’s mayor, that’s the end for all of us who say we don’t want [school] vouchers, and most black people do not want them”), he said a formal campaign launch is scheduled for May 19, location to be announced.
Milton’s current mission
The 73-year-old former legislator, who served 26 months in federal prison after a 2008 tax-related conviction, also spoke about launching the “414 Community Movement” to help combat crime in distraught Philadelphia neighborhoods. (According to the Daily News, Street is still paying the court-ordered $100 per month toward his original $413,704 federal tax bill.)
That mission hearkens back to a memorable 2007 press conference featuring a coffin outside City Hall — “The message was, ‘Let’s stop the violence,’ but I still get ridiculed for it, even if it shows my ability to stick to one issue” — insofar as residents would be called in for a “community security group” mission.
He said he still has that coffin, and what it represented (victims of city violence, collectively) still rings true as the biggest issue facing Philadelphia.
“We can’t solve crime with an election. It’s got to be part of a movement,” said Street, whose brother John served two terms as mayor, of a group that would issue membership cards and a $16,000 annual salary to some participants.
“You tell these boys that they’re going to go to jail and they just laugh; prison is a vacation to them,” he continued. “And, I’ll tell them they’re right: When I was inside, it was a picnic.”
Hiring to cut prison costs
Street said that between now and next February, he hoped to enlist “20,000 people, maybe more” into the “414 Community Movement” through a series of community meetings. Any costs accrued through this mission, he said, would be offset by its ability to keep people out of prison.
“The power is in people, not politicians. With a sense of purpose, we can get that accomplished,” he said as the Market-Frankford El pulled into the station overhead. “It costs $40,000 a year to keep a person in prison, but if we hire 3,000 people, and do the math, say that comes out to costing $40 or $50 million, think about every $1,000 we save by keeping people out of prison.”
Members wouldn’t have arrest powers, of course, but community vigilance and visibility would have an effect, he said.
“The evil-minded would be confronted with a presence telling them that that behavior is unacceptable here,” he said, motioning along Kensington and Allegheny avenues where, just 20 minutes earlier, medics rousted an unconscious man, hooked him up to an oxygen tank and took him to the hospital. “People just want safe streets and to send their kids to quality schools.”
This and that
Street, who said he lives in North Philadelphia, knows that people discount him as a novelty act, a candidate not to be taken seriously. In fact, someone recently asked him, “Aren’t you tired of running for office and losing?”
His short answer: Milton Street isn’t easily discouraged.
“First, they jeer you. Then, if you’ve been heard well, they cheer you,” he said on Tax Day afternoon, more than a year before a mayoral primary featuring yet-known opposition. “I have to start early because I’ve got to organize not just a campaign, but a movement. The campaign is a necessary tool, but it’s the ultimate tool.
“If we get going now, and have it up and running soon, other candidates are going to have to buy into our message. Once black people start a movement around one principle, everybody running for mayor, everybody running for everything else, will have to listen to us.”
The Philadelphia Mayoral primary will take place on May 19. Names bandied about as possible candidates include Williams, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, City Council President Darrell Clarke, former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo and Terry Gillen, who left her job as the city’s first director of federal affairs earlier this year.