The race for Philadelphia mayor came to an anticlimactic end on Tuesday as Democratic incumbent John Street won a landslide victory over Republican challenger Sam Katz.
The election was a rematch of the mayoral race four years ago. In that election, Street won by only 2 percent, or about 9,000 votes.
There was no such draw this time.
Street captured 58 percent of the vote Tuesday, with Katz taking 42 percent. Socialist candidate John Staggs received less than 1 percent.
In an address to supporters Tuesday night at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel, Street said he won because of his many programs that improved quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods.
“We really did make a commitment to turn our attention to neighborhoods without turning our back on Center City, and we have done that,” he said.
During his first term, Street initiated several high-profile programs, including the anti-blight Neighborhood Transportation Initiative and Operation Safe Streets, which flooded drug corners with police.
But Street’s campaign did not gain momentum until an FBI listening device was found in his office four weeks before the election during what Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said was a routine security sweep.
Law enforcement officials said the device was part of a two-year probe into whether campaign contributions were being exchanged for city contracts.
Street and his supporters portrayed the investigation in a different light.
They questioned the timing of the probe so close to an election and suggested it was a racially and politically motivated action against a black Democratic mayor.
The rhetoric stuck a nerve with many black voters who were reminded of investigations into Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black politicians, as well as among liberal whites with misgivings against the administration of President George W. Bush.
Many prominent Democrats came into the city to stump for Street, including former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Pa. Governor Ed Rendell.
In a rally with Clinton last Friday, Rendell, who was the last mayor of Philadelphia, called Street “the second-best mayor this city has ever had.”
Clinton joined in the chorus connecting the bugging to national politics.
“I know quite a bit about Republicans investigating Democrats,” he said. “I think the Republicans in Washington ought to be investigating John Street, but they ought to be investigating his public record because it’s a lot better than theirs.”
Prior to the discovery of the bug, polls showed Street and Katz in a statistical dead heat. In the week before the election, Street had surged to a double-digit lead.
In his concession speech last night, Katz called on city leaders to remember that they are “the people’s servants.” During his campaign, Katz accused Street and other Philadelphia politicians of “cronyism and corruption.”
He frequently criticized the “pay to play” system of contracts for major campaign contributors, which Street has defended as the way things work in the city.
But the issues never seemed to come to the forefront. After the bug was found, Katz struggled to gain momentum as Street surged ahead. On Tuesday, Katz said things just played out better for Street.
“This is a very strange business, and the ball bounces in very strange ways,” Katz said. “And it bounced in a way he was able to take advantage of. That’s the way the ball bounces.”
Brian White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.