Politics in Philadelphia tends to be a family affair — former Mayors Frank Rizzo, Bill Green and Wilson Goode all had sons who served in public life.
Now, that trend may continue with former Mayor John Street and his son, Sharif, who is running for state Senate in the 3rd District, which covers many neighborhoods in North Philadelphia.
It’s the same seat held by his controversial uncle, Milton Street, from 1981 to 1984.
Sharif Street, a Center City-based attorney for 15 years, launched his campaign Thursday afternoon at the Berean Institute on West Girard Avenue. The event was also a retirement announcement for Democratic state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, who is wrapping up her fifth four-year term and hand-picked Street as her successor (he once worked as her legislative aide).
However, a prevailing theme inside the jam-packed room of supporters was that Street has more going for him than nepotism.
“We’re not just sending John Street’s son to the Senate. We’re not just sending Shirley Kitchen’s person she’s endorsing to the Senate,” said state Sen. Anthony Williams. “He has a degree in law, he could serve anywhere. He picked us.”
State Sen. Vincent Hughes said Street is “his own man with his own agenda.”
His father, John Street, who arrived late and ducked out during the ending prayer, said almost nothing about him and did not once mention his name. Of Kitchen, he said she was the kind of leader with the attitude, “You got to take care of my people or you got a problem from me … and, God willing, that’s the way her replacement is going to be.”
As for Street’s Uncle Milton, he didn’t show up and did not return a call seeking comment.
When he took to the microphone, Sharif Street sought to distance himself from his father as mayor, and he delivered a speech that elicited applause and whoops from an audience that had just sat through nearly two hours of speeches in a sweltering room.
He called himself “the next chapter of a movement.”
“I’m a child of the civil rights movement,” he said. “Somebody said, ‘You’re a child of the mayor.’ I said, ‘He became the mayor when I was already grown and a lawyer. I was born to a hot dog vendor who thought we were going to fight every battle in the world.’
“That’s right, I didn’t forget where I came from,” he continued. “I was born the son of a hot dog vendor who was willing to stand up for people and Sen. Kitchen was wiling to stand up for people. We weren’t rich people, we were poor people.”
Street lost a bid for Philadelphia City Council in 2007 — a race in which his uncle also ran — but now has lots of backing including Philadelphia’s Democratic Party chair, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, five state senators, several state representatives and city council members.
Omar Woodard, adjunct professor at Temple University and former policy director for Sen. Williams’ failed mayoral bid, is also actively exploring a run in the 3rd District. Woodard said he will be making a decision “in the next several days.”
He also played down Williams’ endorsement of Street.
“There are relationships that predate ours, but endorsements don’t win elections,” he said. “It’s nothing personal.”