Mayor Michael Nutter faces a colorful long-shot challenge in Tuesday's Democratic primary from T. Milton Street, the brother of his predecessor and longtime political rival, who carries the support of several unions disenchanted with the incumbent.
Nutter, 53, shares the ballot with Street, 72, a former state legislator and hot dog vendor who recently completed a federal sentence for failing to file taxes, and hopes to mobilize ex-offenders as part of his campaign. Street is the older brother of Nutter's predecessor, two-term mayor John F. Street, who
recently switched his registration to independent and may be considering a run for a third term in November.
For now, the race is between Nutter and Milton Street in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of nearly 6-1.
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James Bold, 42, a nurse who's a registered Democrat, considered the primary a “formality” and said Street's candidacy was “not reality in a way.” Despite the economic challenges Nutter faced in his first term, Bold said he thought the incumbent was taking the city in the right direction.
“He just seems like he's got an eye toward progress as opposed to old Philadelphia politics,” Bold said.
Peter Verrecchia, 47, agreed and said he was also supporting Nutter _ hoping he will have a better economic environment to work in during a second term.
“I just think he had a difficult environment considering the recession,” Verrecchia said, adding that he couldn't imagine Milton Street being mayor and was no fan of his younger brother during his time in office. “I didn't like Street _ the other Street.”
The lack of high-profile races, combined with rainy weather, made for very low turnout in the city.
By 11 a.m., four hours after polls opened, one district saw only 40 of 806 registered voters show up to cast their ballots and another had just 10 of 590 registered voters turn out, according to the Committee of Seventy watchdog group.
“I hate to say it, but this election seems kind of pointless,” said registered Democrat Corinna White, 50, as she shook off her umbrella before heading into a downtown drugstore on her lunch break. “I'll try to get to the polling place after work but I might just skip it.”
Two lesser-known Republicans square off in the Republican primary: Karen Brown, a former schoolteacher who up until recently was a Democrat, and John Featherman, a real estate agent. Philadelphia hasn't had a Republican mayor since 1952.
On the Democratic side, Nutter points out homicides were down 22 percent last year compared to 2007 and that violent crime was down 13 percent over that period, despite the fact that the economic crisis has prevented the city from adding the hundreds of police officers he had hoped to hire. He also touts successes in the implementation of single-stream recycling, a new 311-information call center and improvements in police accountability under his police commissioner, Charles Ramsey.
Milton Street, however, has garnered the support of city firefighters and a blue-collar municipal union, both of which are frustrated with Nutter. He has criticized Nutter's endorsement of “stop and frisk” searches being used by police in high-crime neighborhoods, saying they violate civil liberties, and said Nutter hasn't done enough to curb violent crime. As part of his platform,
Street hopes to mobilize thousands of ex-offenders to vote for him; if elected, he plans to hire thousands of unemployed people as part of a town watch initiative for high-crime neighborhoods.
His platform resonated with John Baskerville, 80, a retired city worker who said he was going to vote for him. Baskerville said he felt Nutter didn't do enough for his south Philadelphia neighborhood and he was bothered by his battles with the unions. Street, he said, was more likely to look out for vulnerable populations like the elderly and the poor.
“He has nothing to hide. He did his time,” Baskerville said of
Street. “He's a man. He'll look you in the eye.”