Track down John Street at Temple University, and you’ll find him in a tiny 11th-floor office, with plants on shelves, and pictures from his days as mayor, standing with Bill Clinton and Hollywood celebrities.
He teaches a course in urban policy which fills quickly and earns high ratings on student surveys. He brings students an insiders’ look at government and politics, and has brought in some guest speakers who were former adversaries.
Like Brett Mandel, who tormented Street when he headed the advocacy group Philadelphia Forward. He was stunned that Street asked him to come to his class. But Mandel did, and he said their relationship has blossomed.
“When he was mayor I was one of his leading critics,” Mandel said. “I was someone the media would go to to get good quote. If they needed someone to piss on the mayor’s legs, I was all ready to unzip my fly.’
Now, Mandel said, it as if the two were “old school chums”: “Now we have extended lunches, we can gab for a while.”
Street’s also reached out to Sam Katz, who ran twice against him in campaigns that were decidedly unfriendly. And he brought political consultant Neil Oxman, who made Katz’s ads attacking Street, to speak at his class.
Street, who had a reputation for being combative, won’t say he’s mellowed. But he will say he’s happy:
“I like what I do. I come up here and I teach and I enjoy my classes, and I do a little traveling. I’ve been to Hawaii and South Africa. I got a trip to Egypt. I went to the Kentucky Derby. Look, I’m 67 years old. I’m doing what 67-year olds do. You know, you did what you did and now you’re doing something else.”
But there’s one former adversary Street is not building a new relationship with – Mayor Nutter.
“I think Mayor Nutter has been a bad mayor,” he said. “I think in fact he’s the worst mayor we’ve seen in recent memory.’
Nutter and Street are old rivals, and Nutter has recently blamed Street for failing to monitor the scandal-plagued Philadelphia Housing Authority, whose board Street chairs. Street in turn has encouraged potential candidates – including Katz – to challenge Nutter in next year’s Democratic primary.
Asked about a potential mayor’s race, Street spoke for more than a half an hour, condemning Nutter for a host of sins, from failing to get union contracts and control city spending, to bringing those green solar trash cans to the city.
“I see big-belled trash cans that the controller says don’t work,” he says. “People won’t touch them. People don’t want to touch them. They’re expensive, and people look at them and don’t want to put their hands on them. They say they’re unsanitary.”
Street insists, though, that he never said Nutter was not a black mayor, as an Inquirer column recently said
“I know exactly what I said, because I thought about it, as you might imagine,” he said. “In the African-American community, many people, not all, do not perceive mayor Nutter as being a black mayor. They think of him as a mayor with dark skin, but not as a black mayor..
Street says a black mayor sees the African-American community’s interests as distinct from others.
“Black people really resist this effort by people to suggest that all of our issues merge into the issue of poor people,” he said. “We don’t buy that. And so we belive that we have special issues. We have contracting issues, we have jobs issues, we have discrimination issues, we have a lot of issues that other people don’t have.”
Nutter declined to respond to Street’s criticisms. So far no one has announced plans to run against the mayor, though millionaire Tom Knox and City Councilman Bill Green haven’t ruled it out.
Street says he has no interest in public office and doesn’t know that he’d play any role in a campaign if one emerges. But he plans to keep speaking his mind.