Classes were back in session as former Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street returned to Temple last Tuesday, settling into a Ritter Hall classroom where he is teaching two sections of urban politics this semester.
It was announced in November that Street, a 1975 graduate of Temple’s Beasley School of Law, would become an adjunct professor in the political science department this semester. The classes, titled Urban, State and Local Politics, mark his transition back into the classroom. Street was a teacher prior to holding public office as the fifth district’s City Council member from 1980 to 1988, council president from 1992 to 1998 and mayor from 2000 to 2008.
Following the first week of classes, the 64-year-old said he was enormously impressed thus far with the students’ participation as well as their sincerity and interest in his class.
“On the first day, three were late out of 56,” he said, noting the importance of attendance. “That’s almost unheard of.”
One way to keep attendance up for an early 8:40 or 10:10 a.m. class is to keep the class interesting, which Street has done by injecting humorous stories and providing an inside look at recent issues in Philadelphia politics.
“[The students] will learn a whole lot more about life in an urban area and how life works than a whole lot of people,” Street said.
But he doesn’t plan to limit discussions to just the City of Brotherly Love, he said.
“We’re going to have an opportunity to see how these issues work in Philadelphia and in other metropolitan areas,” he said, adding that it would be inappropriate to limit discussions to only Philadelphia.
In addition to participation and a course paper, the students will be expected to complete weekly assignments on an assigned metropolitan area, including the urban areas of Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix and Raleigh, N.C.
Former Philadelphia mayors Bill Green, Wilson Goode and Gov. Ed Rendell – in addition to current Mayor Michael Nutter – have each given a verbal commitment to speaking to the classes, Street said.
Also, as opposed to a final, he plans to have each class participate in a budget simulation with every student playing a specific role, including the mayor, city council president, director of commerce, finance director, city council member and activist.
“It’s a different way of learning – live the life of a city politician,” said David Smith, a junior political science major.
Street lived the life of Philadelphia’s mayor for two terms, but corruption in City Hall prior to his reelection in 2003 and a rise in murders to more than 400 people last year may have tainted his image and overshadowed his Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, a plan to rebuild and maintain Philadelphia communities. He left office with an unfavorable rating of 58 percent, according to the latest Keystone Poll by Franklin & Marshall College in October.
Some of his final acts as mayor included four last-minute appointments – two each to the boards of the Redevelopment Authority and the Philadelphia Housing Authority, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The PHA appointments included Street as the chairman and third district councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who rounds out the five-member panel.
Still, students like Kaitlyn Crescenco, a senior political science major, hold the bar high. She said she has taken similar classes and has previously worked on campaigns.
“There will be high expectations on both ends just because of who he is,” she said.
In the classroom, Street is joined by teaching assistant Jeffrey Carroll, who chose to be a teaching assistant as opposed to teaching his own class as he has done in the past. Even so, Carroll was given his teaching assignment before Street even committed to teaching the class.
“I didn’t know the mayor would be teaching until it broke in the press,” Carroll said.
Even though Carroll wasn’t aware that he would be working beside the ex-mayor, many students enrolled in the class precisely for the professor in order to get a better look into the world of politics.
“I’m interested in his experience and an in-depth look into real-life politics instead of a textbook look,” Smith said.
Erin Hildebrant enrolled in the class because of her interest in politics – in addition to thinking it would be interesting to meet the former mayor.
“It’s a great opportunity,” the senior history major said. “Who better to teach local politics than a former mayor?”
Amanda Snyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FULL DISCLOSURE: The author is a student in Mayor Street’s urban politics course.