November 411, 1999
How Street Won, part II
A moment-by-moment, citywide account of the Election Day that made John Street mayor.
Noon Shaw Middle School, West Philly
Mary Guions, committeewoman for the 51st Ward, sits in the foyer watching Action News on a tiny black-and-white TV. An ardent Street supporter, she urges every voter to choose her candidate.
"If black people dont come out to vote in this election, well have a hard time," she says. "Ive been working for the School District for 12 years, and John Street is the one trying to save public schools. Katz wants vouchers. And vouchers can only hurt public schools by taking the money and the brightest kids elsewhere. Our schools need money and our kids need love and attention. I dont think the Republicans are willing to give either. But I feel good today because our people are turning out in big numbers. Thats great, considering the rain and all."
12:10 p.m. Barratt Middle School, South Philadelphia
John Street owns South Philly this part, at least. About one-third of the homes on Wharton Street between Broad and 16th sport Street posters in their front windows. "Sorry we missed you" fliers hang on many doorknobs. (The only sign of a Katz presence anywhere in the area is a tattered poster lying on the sidewalk on Broad near Reed.)
"This is a heavily Democratic neighborhood always has been," says a volunteer outside Barratt, just before hustling off to knock on doors and hang more fliers on doorknobs.
"We have camaraderie here," adds Fred Washington, a Democratic committeeman who stays behind to work the door. He smiles contentedly and looks up and down the street, hands clasped behind his back, as he speaks. "We have Republicans in this area, we have Democrats. We all get along."
12:25 p.m. Delaire Landing Complex, Northeast Philly
Bernie Reidenberg has been a Democratic committeeman for 18 years, and he hasnt seen voter turnout like this in a long time. There are senior citizens lined up out the door of the recreation center in the enormous complex.
Reidenberg is open about what he thinks caused this sudden surge in participation. "Unfortunately, its a racial issue. Some people say its not, but it is. I have residents who have voted straight Democrat for years, suddenly theyre voting for Katz."
But for Reidenberg, there is more to the vote-splitting than race. "The proof is in the pudding. John Street has been there for 19 years, but look at his neighborhood it hasnt changed."
12:45 p.m. En route to Chestnut Hill with Katz
One of the lingering questions in this race, at least with some Democrats who dislike John Street, is what voting for a Republican, no matter how "lite" he is, would mean on a statewide or nationwide level. At a forum last month, Katz said, as a Republican, he would be expected to support the likes of conservative poster boy U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
This scared the pants off some Democrats.
"Ill cross each bridge with the facts and conditions," he says. "Im not looking to make enemies in my own party or in the Democratic party."
Katzs favorite words these days: bipartisan, diverse, inclusive.
"If I dont win the election I dont have any problems," he holds out his hands. "No ones worrying about what Im gonna do if I lose."
Katz intends on calling it a day around 3 p.m. He doesnt plan to resurface until late in the evening.
"Im going to put up my feet, spend time with my family to talk about the ramifications" of the elections outcome victory or defeat. This race has been more public and could be more painful than 91 or 95, he explains.
But because he has lost two elections in the past doesnt mean itll be any easier if he does lose.
"Ive never been here before. Ive never put all my eggs in one basket. Ive never been this intensely scrutinized in public."
But if anything has been difficult in this election, it was last week.
"I had two television interviews Sunday, a live debate Tuesday, a Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday, St. Joes live on Tuesday, Thursday night on Channel 6.
"This is the most anxiety-intensive week Ive ever had in my life."
1 p.m. Samuel Huey Elementary School, West Philly
The front entrance is plastered with posters for John Street. A half-dozen or so campaign workers are eating lunch; they direct questions to Kathy Way, 60th Ward, 16th Division committeewoman.
Way beams like a proud parent. "Its a beautiful turnout! The community wants John Street, and theyre turning out to vote. This is a proud day for black Philadelphia. Look, if Katz wins were fucked."
Asked to explain, Way says, "Just look around. Do you see anybody here handing out Katz literature? Thats because Katz doesnt care about this community. He has an office one block away from here at 52nd and Spruce but you never see them out here in the neighborhood."
A quick check 10 minutes later finds the storefront office empty, dark and locked.
1:30 p.m. Big Georges Stop and Dine, West Philly
Big Georges is much more than just a neighborhood eatery. President Clinton stopped by for lunch on a visit last year. And on any given day, local pundits and philosophers can be found discussing politics, current events and the pressing issues of the day.
On this Election Day, middle-aged couple Eugene and Dolores Nedab are enjoying an after-lunch cigarette and discussing the next mayor.
Eugene: "At least its been a fairly civil campaign, no real mudslinging. Whens the last time that happened?"
Dolores: "Katz got in a couple of good digs at the end."
Eugene: "In a city with a 4 to 1 ratio of Democrats, this thing should have been over long ago. If Street loses, itll be because of his personality. A lot of folks just plain dont like him."
Dolores: "No, I think if Street loses, its because he sat on his lead and didnt bother to campaign until last month. And, you notice how late people were to endorse him?"
Eugene: "Yeah, at that press conference last week, half of those City Council people looked like they were in line for root canal. How does that make Street look?"
Dolores: "Its a shame that the mayors race could be decided on personalities instead of issues."
Eugene: "If you ask me, for the last month John Street has acted like he didnt care if he wins or not."
Dolores: "No, he does care. Thats just him. Its the way he is."
2 p.m. 60th and Market Streets
Despite a driving rain, every corner is crowded with people as they wait for the bus or attempt to cross the busy street. The Street motorcade arrives and the carnival begins.
"Step right up and have your picture taken with John Street!" the barker yells into the megaphone.
Businessmen in suits, grandmas in sweatpants, chubby kids in baseball caps, teenagers in leather coats and gold chains one by one, they drape their arms around John Street. Some of the ladies lean over and kiss him lightly on the cheek. Everyone walks away staring at their Polaroids, anxious for the images to emerge.
Street and his growing entourage run from corner to corner, taking temporary shelter under the El tracks. More hugs, more photos, more giveaways. Every hand on the block seems to be gripping some item with John Streets name on it.
"We will be out here campaigning until the polls close," comments Ray Jones, press director for Streets campaign. "And well be back at 7 a.m. tomorrow, thanking people at the transit stops."
2:15 p.m. Jacks Deli, Northeast Philadelphia
Democratic committeeman Howard Fishbein is furious. His crowded polling station was the site of one of a series of incidents involving the "Democrats for Katz" ballot sheet a handout that looks remarkably like the Democratic ballot sheet.
A woman was distributing them at this station and, according to Fishbein, "some goons grabbed them and took them away." The woman called the police, and the ballot thieves took off before the cops arrived. But this isnt even what Fishbein is mad about.
"These ballots are illegal," he fumes. "There is no question whatsoever."
Word is that a Democratic ward leader distributed the Katz look-alike ballots.
"He double-crossed us," Fishbein says. "He went against our own party."
2:30 p.m. St. Francis de Sales School, West Philly
Darryl Jones, a Philadelphia police officer, is picking up his son from school.
"I have very little confidence in the public school system. I just dont think the commitment is there from the administrators, teachers or parents. I just dont see it. Thats why my son goes to Catholic school. I dont have time to wait for them to fix the system. By the time they make any real improvements, my boy will be in college."
Asked if the school voucher debate influenced his vote, Jones says, "Absolutely. Just a few weeks ago I answered a call from an elementary school. The teacher failed a student for being a disruptive bully, and the bullys mother went to the school and beat the teacher up. Guess where the kid got his values? Maybe a voucher program will take some of the better students out of public school, but I think thats a good thing."
2:40 p.m. Northeast Older Adult Center
State Rep. Chris Wogan, a Republican, is clearly enjoying the controversy over the "Democrats for Katz" ballots.
"It troubles me to see my Democratic friends fighting amongst themselves," Wogan adds, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
3:30 p.m. Park Manor Apartments
Byard Lancaster, jazz saxophonist and volunteer for his Republican Council candidate brother Bert, is working the Park Manor polling place. Earlier, he watched as an evidently inebriated judge of elections there embarrassed himself on television. "Marge Pala [of KYW] asked him some simple questions about his duties that he couldnt answer," Lancaster explains. There is no serious effort to have the man removed, nor is there any evidence hes affecting the election process at all.
At Park Manor, where weather shouldnt be a factor, only 82 of 540 registered voters had cast their ballots by 3 p.m.
5 p.m. 53rd and Warrington, West Philly
"To be honest with you, Im not as much pro-Street as I am anti-Katz," explains a Street volunteer who wont give his name. "Or more accurately, anti-Republican. Historically, the Republican party has slashed programs for the poor while giving huge tax breaks for the rich. I think the Republican party contributes to the genocide of black people.
"Not that John Streets a bargain either. I just think hes the lesser of two evils. I mean, have you looked at his home district? Nothing but abandoned houses and empty lots. Sure, his face is covering every inch of wall space, but the walls are crumbling. Hes had 20 years to fix up North Philly, but hasnt. I just hope when he becomes mayor he does the right thing."
5 p.m. 7175 Ogontz Ave., West Oak Lane
The turnout in the 10th Ward, 15th Division, is coming up huge. By 5 p.m., 228 of the 576 voters have cast their ballots in a black middle-class neighborhood where Katz people probably hoped they wouldnt get too badly hurt.
But the campaign workers there display a striking loyalty to Street. The irony is compounded by the fact that Street finished third in this division in the spring, behind John White and favorite son State Rep. Dwight Evans, whose district office is right across the street.
A few blocks away, in the 10th Ward Democratic headquarters, ward leader Edgar Howard looks at the uniformly high turnout in his large, predominantly black ward. He makes the unusual observation that the Daily News endorsement of Katz might have backfired by actually galvanizing Street supporters.
"When have you ever seen that paper give instructions on how to split your ticket?" Howard asks incredulously, referring to a boxed item accompanying the Katz endorsement which spelled out the methods used for ticket-splitting. "That upset people," Howard adds. "Nobody ever remembers that happening to anyone else."
5:17 p.m. Archbishop Ryan High School, Northeast Philadelphia
Two large men in "McDermott for Mayor" sweatshirts stand in the doorway. When questioned about their loyalty to this largely unknown third-party candidate, they smile and admit that "McDermott hopefully will take votes away from Katz," thereby helping their real choice, John Street.
These Local 19 Sheet Metal Workers union members say that the day has been uneventful, except for when a "big guy" approached one of them, called Katz and McDermott "scumbags" and ran away.
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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