November 411, 1999
How Street Won, part III
A moment-by-moment, citywide account of the Election Day that made John Street mayor.
6 p.m. Hancock School, Northeast Philly
About a dozen voters file in as the day draws to a close. A poll watcher looks up from her book at a man who has just entered. "You are our 200th voter," she says without emotion. "Ding ding ding."
6:05 p.m. First Baptist Church, Center City
"There were some Katz people here this morning," says Ross Chapman, an 8th Ward Democratic committeeman, from under a massive umbrella, "but I havent seen hide nor hair of them since. I think they dont have enough people."
Chapman suggests, however, that many Center City Democrats were ripe for the picking.
"A lot of people in Center City have misgivings about Street," he says. "But Katz didnt exactly excite a lot of people."
6:45 p.m. Germantown
The rain stops, but a heavy tree has toppled across Hortter Street and the lights have gone out on some blocks of Boyer. The first word trickles out that the rain has knocked out electricity in voting sites all over the city.
7:18 p.m. Park Hyatt Hotel at the Bellevue, Katzs election night headquarters
The ballroom is set up for a victory party red, white and blue balloon arches, big screen TV, a live band from New York playing bossa nova and swing, fancy sandwiches and soft pretzels.
But so far the only ones partaking are the media types, who are also feeding the gossip mill. Something about the Democrats for Katz ballot sheet being ruled illegal. About Democratic campaign workers manhandling old ladies. Power outages in John Streets critical neighborhoods, late-day election court, appeals.
7:30 p.m. Seventh Day Adventist Church, Chestnut Hill
Marilyn Paucker is a Katz volunteer in the majority Democrat 8th Division in Chestnut Hills 9th Ward. Its her first campaign, and the Democrat confesses some queasiness about being on the Republican side of things. "Its uncomfortable to get mail now from the Republican National Committee," says Paucker, who adds with a laugh, "I try to burn it right away."
7:38 p.m. 20th and Woodstock Streets
There is bedlam on the streets in North Philadelphia.
For nearly two hours, as many as 20 polling locations have lost electricity, creating chaos in the heart of John Streets main voter base.
Shortly after the power is restored, William Mackey, a stocky Street worker, is standing in the middle of 20th Street, barking six different orders in seven different directions all at once.
"Move it," hes shouting.
"The lights are back on. Lets get everybody out. Come on."
As Mackey screams, a half dozen Street workers run hither and yon, trying to figure out what to do next and where to do it. Finally, Mackey restores some semblance of order and his crew begins walking down Woodstock, knocking on doors, urging stragglers to come out to vote.
"You still have 20 minutes left, people," Mackey implores. "No excuses."
8 p.m. The Warwick Hotel, election night headquarters for John Street
The ballroom is festively decorated with red and white balloons, but the party really hasnt started yet.
"I hope this shindig gets going," a woman is overheard complaining, "because Streets headquarters during the primary was like a morgue."
People begin to trickle in, decked out in everything from jeans and sneakers to sequined dresses and lamé stilettos.
Supporters who show up hungry are disappointed. The spread doesnt quite qualify as a spread bowls of potato chips, tortillas and salsa and pretzels. To add salt to the wound, its a cash bar.
8:05 p.m. Houston Rec Center, Roxborough
The lights went out here, as they did in five other divisions, around 6 p.m. For almost an hour, the voting machines didnt work, and between 50 and 70 voters were told to come back later. "Not all of them did," says Mike McBride, the Democratic committeeman for the 21st Wards 34th Division.
When a city mechanic came and switched the voting machines over to manual operation around 7 p.m., the voting started again, only this time by romantic candlelight. At 8:25, just as the counting was to begin, the lights flickered and then came back on for good.
9 p.m. Grace United Methodist Church, West Oak Lane
Tenth Ward campaign workers return to collect their street money for the day and committeepeople submit their results. The numbers provide Street with numbing victory margins: 333-9, 314-14. Katz only comes close to 10 percent of the vote in one single division.
At a party in her home for her committeepeople, Councilwoman Marian Tasco, Democratic leader of the 50th Ward, sees results for Street similar to those in the 10th Ward. Although Katz managed 10 percent of the vote in more divisions, Streets overall numbers were huge, with totals like 450-63 and 391-25.
Tasco raised some hackles with the Democratic Party last week when she didnt show up for an endorsement for Street in City Council. "Our committeepeople decided not to endorse for mayor," she explains. "They said, lets not get in the middle of this. Leave it open and well carry the Democratic ballot."
That wasnt good enough for Democratic Party leaders, who resorted to hardball rhetoric that left Tasco irate. "We got a lot of harassment," she explains. "Some of them said, We dont want you to get hurt. Well, whos going to hurt? This is still America, last time I looked."
10:05 p.m. Park Hyatt
Street, the TV screen reads, is leading 50-49. The room is packed, and all eyes are glued on the five TVs stationed around the room. Five minutes later, theyre dead even. The room roars.
John White sweeps through the room, stopping briefly to talk to reporters and Republicans. He says the usual "There is no partisan way to pick up trash, to fight crime" but says, as he disappears around 11 in an elevator, "My job is done."
10:15 p.m. Germantown Republican Club, Chestnut Hill
Byard Lancaster tells the rest of the story about the intoxicated judge of elections at Park Manor. Lancaster says that after the TV crew left, the man commented, "Luckily my mother doesnt watch Channel 3." Lancaster couldnt help himself. "I said, Yeah, but Ill bet some of her church buddies do."
Sure enough, the mans mother called later, saying that a church friend had tipped her off that her son had made an unflattering TV appearance.
10:30 p.m. The Warwick
By now, the ballroom is packed. Its capacity is 750, but surely fire codes are being broken. More supporters are seated in a "spillover" room, just down the hall.
A rapper is introduced. Everyone gets their arms waving and their legs swaying to his refrain:
Whos gonna fight for your rights on the street?
John Street, John Street
11:15 p.m. Park Hyatt
"Historically," says Katz consultant Elliott Curson, "the candidate in front at this point has won."
The numbers are floating. Street is hovering at least 10 points above Katz.
"I wouldnt concede an election right now," says Curson. "I wouldnt sugarcoat it either."
1:15 a.m. Park Hyatt
The decisions been made: Its time to concede.
Katz, smiling, arrives on time, with his family members in tow.
After thanking his family and his staff, Katz thanks the GOP. "The Republican party took a gigantic step in this election. Mike [Meehan, Republican City Committee boss], you made your family and your father proud."
Then, back to his wife. "My only real regret is that this beautiful woman will not be the first lady."
1:30 a.m. The Warwick
A very hoarse John Street makes his way to the podium. The first thing he does is "give glory and honor to God." Except that the reverb coming from the microphone amplifiers is deafening.
When the sound system returns to normal, Street thanks his opponent.
"I want to thank Sam Katz. He ran a brilliant campaign that tested our strength and our work ethic," the Democratic winner says.
Two important phone calls have already come in, Street tells the crowd.
"Gov. Ridge asks that we sit down and talk over the next couple of weeks, and I agreed."
The second phone call is from "your president, and my president," a smiling Street says.
Lastly, he points to his wife and children. "We look forward to being your first family."
1:41 a.m. The Warwick
Moments after John Street wraps up his victory speech, Bruce Crawley, his long-time friend and campaign chief, steps off the dais and talks about why Street won.
"What went right is that the Democratic party pulled together," says Crawley. "People from North Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, Germantown, West Oak Lane and the Northeast recognized they are Democrats in a way I havent seen in recent years. There was a really strong field organization. There was a contribution of labor that was mentioned that was a real strong element in this victory. Beyond that, we had the clergy. There were so many elements of this community that came together on behalf of John Street that took a vested interest in his victory and that is the best kind of politics."
2:03 a.m. The Warwick
Surrounded by a phalanx of microphones thrust into his face by a dozen-odd radio and print reporters, John Street savors his victory.
"I feel good about all of it," says Street. "We worked real hard. We embarked on this journey, informally at first, then formally, for the last couple of years and it has now culminated in what I regard as a great victory for the Democratic party. All of it hasnt sunk in yet. I think what I really have to do is take Howard Altman down on the Schuylkill and go fishing and think about it all."
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