November 411, 1999
How Street Won
A moment-by-moment, citywide account of the Election Day that made John Street mayor.
by Howard Altman (in North Philadelphia), Debra Auspitz (in Northeast Philadelphia), Jen Darr (with Sam Katz), Daryl Gale (in West Philadelphia), Frank Lewis (in South Philadelphia and Center City), Gwen Shaffer (with John Street) and Noel Weyrich (in Northwest Philadelphia)
photographs by Eddy Palumbo
6:58 a.m. William Barrett Naaburrs Center, Grays Ferry
Joe Markey and his boys are doing what some pundits may see as the unthinkable.
White guys from Grays Ferry, Markey and the boys are scurrying about this foggy morning on behalf of a black man, taping up John Street posters and handing out Street pins and the now-infamous Street heads life-sized photos of John Street attached to sticks.
"John is the man," says the gravelly voiced Markey, a longtime city employee and lifelong resident of this South Philly neighborhood with an overblown reputation for racial disharmony. "Its going to be a tough pull for him, because a lot of people dont know the man. But he understands us. Hes done a lot for us here in Grays Ferry."
Repeating a refrain first heard at a candidates night last month, Markey says theres one more reason he and his white friends and neighbors will be voting for Street.
"That defector, John White," Markey spits. "Hes responsible for this Section 8 mess."
7:07 a.m. St. Malachy School, North Philly
Walking toward the school dining hall, where the polling machines are set up, some voters are startled by the scene: a dozen or more television cameramen line the path, and a KFC mascot promotes the fast food chains new chicken sandwich.
John and Naomi Street emerge from behind the tinted windows of their van. In unison the cameramen murmur, "Here they come." The couple looks distinguished John in a staid navy suit, Naomi wearing a peach suit, her hair pulled back in a chignon.
The Streets stand in line to vote, just like everyone else.
When Naomi pulls the big red lever that opens the voting booth curtains, a reporter yells, "Who did you vote for?"
"The best candidate," she replies.
John Street stops to chat with the press before taking off. Even this close to the end, he sticks to his well-rehearsed pitch: "On the one hand, you have a person with no experience. On the other hand "
Streets exhausted spokesperson, Ken Snyder, says he had anxiety dreams all night.
"I dreamt it was five in the afternoon and no one had voted for John."
8:10 a.m. Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mount Airy
The sky is an eerie gray this morning. When Republican candidate Sam Katz emerges from a black SUV one of two in his entourage he appears confident.
Though the wind is blowing the leaves all about, Katz, whos wearing a dark blue suit, isnt the least bit tousled. His wife, Connie, whos sporting a conservative light gray suit, is equally composed.
Three men in large KFC chicken sandwich head costumes theyre everywhere this morning are lined up outside the polling center. They wave their fat hands at people and hand out free sandwich coupons to voters as they exit.
Katz approaches the chicken sandwich heads for a handshake photo op.
As his hand locks with chicken sandwich head number one, two photographers tussle over the money shot freelancer Eddy Palumbo, who shoots for City Paper and other area pubs, and a man rumored to be a New York Daily News photographer. Apparently, its rude to get in a New Yorkers way even in Philly, even for a shot of a man shaking the hand of a chicken sandwich. (Before leaving the polling place, Palumbo says he and the New Yorker "made up.")
Though only three Katzes are here to cast their votes Sam, Connie and oldest daughter Lauren his posse also includes his other three kids, Ben, Philip and Liz; Philips two school friends Phil and Gene; Katzs motherin-law Irene Hackel; and two campaign staffers.
While waiting in line to cast his vote, he chats, cracks jokes and signs an autograph for a maintenance worker who calls him "Mayor Katz."
"This is a great day for America," he says after he leaves a booth.
8:25 a.m. St. Andrews Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Kensington
Ken Ruley says he sees no reason to wait 12 hours to declare a winner.
"John Street has this won," declares Ruley, election judge of the 5th Ward, 23rd Division, the largely black and Hispanic Spring Garden neighborhood.
"The polls have been open just over an hour. So far, 63 people out of 629 have voted. Street is going to win."
8:30 a.m. Streets Northwest headquarters, Germantown
The Democratic effort for Street in the Northwest section of the city is being run from the Germantown Avenue offices of State Rep. John Myers and Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller.
"Many people feel this election is about party ideology," says Myers, a 30-year veteran of progressive and independent black politics in Philadelphia. "Those that believe in the Democratic Party are gonna hold and not get out of line. The rain and the wind isnt going to stop them."
The Myers-Miller organization, known as the Northwest Action Committee, assigns paid campaign workers to ring doorbells, check on vote counts and drive sound trucks. The division of labor frees the Democratic party regulars, the committeepeople, to stay at their posts near the polling places. To feed the troops in the field, Jameels Deli and Grocery is preparing 200 lunches with Kosher salami and Kosher bologna.
"We usually do a division-by-division targeting," Myers says. "This time the election is about GOTV (get out the vote). You cant be messing around with lets go here, lets go there." In a typical election in these neighborhoods, he says, half of all the votes in any given division are typically cast between 5 and 8 p.m.
There are problems in the neighborhood this morning. One machines curtain wont close. Another machine arrived without a seal, forcing a mechanic to make sure it had been cleared of votes from the primary. In the 59th Ward, 3rd Division, the election book inexplicably arrived without voter names beginning with the letter J.
"Thats a problem," Miller laughs. "There are plenty of Joneses and Johnsons up there."
9 a.m. Germantown Republican Club, Chestnut Hill
Youthful Wyndmoor resident Stephen Rush, the Katz campaign coordinator for the Northwest, is targeting the campaigns efforts on neighborhoods like Chestnut Hill, Roxborough, Manayunk and Mount Airy.
"These are areas that have voted for Ron Castille," says Rush. Castille, now a State Supreme Court justice, was district attorney before Lynne Abraham, and was the last Philadelphia Republican to be elected to an executive office in a citywide race.
The styles of the Street and Katz efforts in the Northwest could hardly be more different. While Myers and Miller, themselves both elected officials, base many of their decisions on instincts and decades of first-hand experience, Rush comments that hell know which electoral divisions are in need of increased attention by consulting a computer: "We have a program that tells us where the turnout should be," he says.
9:10 a.m. Broad and Erie, North Philadelphia
A group of men and women, all wearing T-shirts bearing the likeness of John Street, brave the burgeoning rain, holding up signs that, collectively, spell V-O-T-E S-T-R-E-E-T.
The sign holders, says Regina Burkett, are from Stop and Surrender, a North Philadelphia-based drug rehab center. The men and women holding signs here, at Broad and Olney, and in front of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, some 300 strong in all, are all recovering crack and heroin addicts, says Burkett.
"Johns helped us and now its our turn to help him," she says.
10 a.m. St. Martins Church hall, Chestnut Hill
In an electoral division that is 55 percent Democrat, the committeepeople have not been seen all morning. "Thats indicative of their sentiments," says judge of elections Jim Sicks. He should know. He resigned his post as Democratic ward chairman, number two behind ward leader Andy Ross, because he felt he couldnt support John Streets election.
The news of Sicks resignation even made the Inquirer, which caused at least one voter today to tease him with the observation: "You gonna stand on morals and principles in the age of Bill Clinton?"
Says Sicks with a rueful smile, "This is the shit I have to put up with these days."
10:06 a.m. Mayfair Diner, Mayfair
Somehow, the Katz camp has managed to elude most reporters (not purposefully, they insist) for a private late breakfast at the Mayfair Diner.
When asked if hes glad its almost over, Katz promises its just beginning. Lauren quips, "You must be kidding."
Katz insists that any trepidation he might have had a week ago has since been eliminated. "After four debates in one week, I left all my anxiety on the table."
Still, moments later, he leans across the table in the direction of a staffer and asks quietly, "Can you find out if were winning?"
He cleans his plate of the eggs he ordered, stands up and puts on his suit jacket.
"Im gonna go work the room."
While chatting with patrons, he is asked what his party affiliation really means. He maintains hes not a pawn for someone elses political agenda.
Before the entourage departs, staffer Liz Preate makes a cell phone call.
The person on the other end of the phone, she explains, reports that voter turnout is higher than in the primary and is high in critical areas for Katz South Philly, Rittenhouse Square and Society Hill.
"And people are asking before they enter the voting booth how to split the ticket."
11:04 a.m. to noon North Philadelphia
Like a traveling circus, the Street trolley just like the ones tourists ride around in and the rest of his motorcade noisily snake through North Philly. People passing by on the sidewalk give Street the thumbs-up. Others peer out from doorways and windows.
At 24th and Oxford, Street hops out of the trolley and runs up to a woman on the sidewalk. His "Polaroid Posse" follows, and snaps a photo of Street with his arm around the woman. She happily accepts the picture and a T-shirt, and waves them in the air.
Street pops back into the trolley. Half a block further he topples out again when he spots a group of people hanging out on the stoop of their rowhouse. Street bounces up to them, the posse takes a few pictures, hands out a few Street-on-a-stick masks, and everyone quickly returns to the trolley.
As the procession travels west on Oxford, this scene plays out numerous times. A team of Philadelphia Water Department workers repairing a water main are rewarded with shirts and buttons. When the men pick up their shovels again, theyre laughing.
11:20 a.m. Stiffel Senior Center, South Philadelphia
Its been a long time since Marty Weinberg lived in South Philly, but this area at the southern end of what was once a large and vibrant Jewish presence in South Philly remains "Weinberg country," in the words of one observer. Weinberg never showed his face here during his unsuccessful primary race, probably because he didnt have to; most of the Stiffel Center community was solidly behind him, no matter what.
But they didnt necessarily follow his lead in the general election by supporting Street.
"I think around here it would be Katz," says Ted, a retiree who doesnt want to give his last name. "I dont think they like Street too much. Its his arrogant attitude. He doesnt pay his bills, and some of his own population wasnt for him. Like John White."
11:38 a.m. Mayfair Elementary School
The smell of cafeteria sauerkraut permeates the air. At least a hundred kids are squeaking and jumping in the cafeteria next to the polling room. "Hi, Mr. Katz," says one boy, holding out his hand as if hes making a business deal.
After a quarter of an hour, the Katz brigade is ready to hit the next stop. Connie alerts her husband that a school administrator is visibly annoyed at the disruption his visit is causing.
He disappears inside the school.
"Its hard," says Connie. "Kids get excited. But you need to keep law and order," she laughs.
For more information
Philly's I.O.U. mayor: With so many political favors to return after
his anemic victory in Philadelphia, will John F. Street turn City Hall into
a House of Cards? By Howard Altman
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