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What this election is really about

To understand what Tuesday’s election for mayor is about, we must first understand what it is not about.

This election should not be about whether the next mayor is black or white. You would think in the year 2003 that this would be obvious, but it’s not to many people. This is not about one race or the other running the city.

Yeah, I know, the mayor made that infamous stupid statement, and I also know about the campaign garbage from the other side that told us to take back the city. It’s about time we got beyond the provincial questions of race that have dogged this campaign.

It’s about time we began thinking as Philadelphians and what’s best for the city and forgot about the color of the next mayor.

I know this sounds opportunistic and insincere coming from a white guy who worked for Sam Katz the first time around. But I was saying the same thing when I didn’t like what Frank Rizzo was doing to this city. This is not about racial pride, although I understand it, the same way it wasn’t about ethnic pride when Rizzo split this city, but I understood it back then, too.

In my mind, this election is not about corruption, either, despite the unfortunate timing of this FBI investigation. You may want to believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Until or unless somebody shows me evidence that John Street is corrupt, I’ll take him on his years of public service without a taint of corruption. Yeah, Street is a little too susceptible to cronyism for my taste, but that’s more a symptom of the one-party rule in this city than it is a sign that the mayor is hopelessly corrupt.

You may believe there’s a whiff of partisan conspiracy about this investigation, but then you may have been watching too many Oliver Stone films. The charge that African-American officials are investigated at a disproportionate percentage begs the real question, which is whether they are guilty or not. John Street is not Marion Barry. It’s not fair to elect him because he’s being investigated any more than it is fair to vote against him because there is an ongoing investigation.

If this election is not about race or about the FBI investigation, what is it about?

The election should be a referendum on Street’s four years in office and whether the challenger offers a chance for improving on that record.

Street caught the same tough break that other newly elected officials did at the state and local level — a lousy national economy. The mayor also inherited a city that, even while enjoying eight wonderful years of the Rendell administration, was hemorrhaging jobs.

He is not a bold leader. By nature, he is cautious and conservative. His approach might have been OK in different times, but in 2003, more John Street means the city will continue quietly bleeding more jobs and will die a slow death. The mayor’s plan does nothing to stem the flood of businesses leaving Philadelphia. His mantra is that we can’t afford Sam Katz, but in effect, he is also telling us that we can’t do more.

The mayor also inherited a city from Ed Rendell that worked well. The mayor and Council worked together to solve this city’s problems. John Street was an integral part of that working relationship as Council president. But in his own role as leader, Street has not been able to build on that relationship; in fact, he has in many ways undermined it.

City Council constantly complains that it is kept in the dark by the autocratic way Street runs Philadelphia. His own Council president, a member of the same political party, has voiced the same complaint in numerous public forums. The mayor fails to understand the elemental concept that although he is the leader of this city, he is part of a team working for its greater good.

This city once suffered from the same malady under an equally bright guy named Bill Green, who never got the message. Street promises four more years of dictatorial wrangling with his own party in power, and we can’t afford that.

It is true that Sam Katz has never been elected to public office. He is also a Republican running in a Democratic city. No matter what your party affiliation, you have to agree that one-party rule never serves us well. One-party rule leads to the arrogance of power and inevitably to the isolation of voters from the decision-making process.

Katz has offered some bold ideas to stop the bleeding. Is there a risk in cutting taxes and borrowing to pay for it? Yes, but it is the same risk one takes when you apply a tourniquet to a victim who is watching his blood ebb away. The bigger question is, what happens if we don’t take the risk?

A new direction vs. the same-old same old. Philadelphia’s economy is in desperate straits. Katz offers the chance that we can turn it around. Street wants to provide hospice care until the patient dies.

Tom Cardella and his wife worked for Sam Katz in 1999. His wife is working for Katz in the current election.

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