Observing Milton, and the Great Debate

    By the time Milton Street’s officially kicked his campaign off yesterday at 52nd and Market, there were signs that the novelty of his campaign for mayor has begun to wear off.

    There was media coverage, but not the phalanx of TV cameras that have attended some past Milton appearances. And while a couple dozen supporters crowded around the U-Haul pickup that served as his stage, the event drew little notice from commuters at the busy corner of 52nd and Market.

    Street had already outlined his campaign platform of hiring 3,000 ex-offenders to patrol neighborhoods, paying their salaries with the savings from a lower inmate population at city prisons.

    I went just to see him for the first time since he went to prison for failing to file tax returns. He’d been indicted on much more serious charges, including fraud and tax evasion. But as he’s done again and again, Milton managed to find his way out of a jam without catastrophic harm.

    He looked fit and relaxed, and as he spoke I was reminded that he’s pretty effective orator when he gets going. And I recognized mannerisms he shares with his brother John, the two-term mayor who was miles away from this event.

    I asked Milton if he was employed, and how he would support himself while he campaigns.

    “I’m doing the same thing I did when I was in prison,” he said. “I learned how to live on $14 a month.”

    I noted that his record included service in the State Senate and a federal penitentiary, and asked what he would say to voters who didn’t regard him as a credible candidate.

    “I don’t say anything to those, because they’re not the people who are going to vote for me,” he said with a laugh. “They’re the penthouse people….we got two different sets of priorities. Our value systems are different.”

    I wondered about his health, since he’d told me in 2003 he had multiple sclerosis. “Sometimes when I go to bed I can’t control my legs,” he said in a column I wrote at the time. “They tingle, they shake, and sometimes the pain is unbearable.” Despite that, he said, he rode 30 or 40 miles at a time on his bike.

    He said yesterday he manages the MS, and that he had a nickname when he was in prison. “They used to call me the beast,” he said. “I used to stay on the exercising equipment six hours a day.”

    What’s his diet?

    “I eat grains, vegetables, I make sure I get amino acids, fatty acids, my trace minerals, right?” he said. “Oh yeah, I’m a very young 71. You will see me riding my bicycle this summer 200 miles a week. I challenge you to come out and ride with me.”

    Maybe he should challenge Mayor Nutter. He’s looking pretty fit these days.

    Come to think of it, how about a debate on stationary bikes? We could make it a WHYY fundraiser and ask members to pledge a few bucks a mile for the rider they think will last the longest, and pay another ten to vote on the winner of the debate.

    Tell me you wouldn’t tune in for some of that.

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