following article is reprinted from the Sunday, October
19 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer
knew that race would be a significant issue
in the campaign for mayor of Philadelphia, with a white Republican
taking on a black Democratic incumbent.
it has effectively become the only issue.
discovery of an FBI bug in Mayor Street's office Oct. 7 and
a federal investigation into possible municipal corruption
has completely changed the dynamic of the campaign and, in
the process, deepened long-existing fissures between black
and white Philadelphians.
the election only two weeks away and the FBI not giving details
about the investigation, the campaigns are trying to fill in
the blanks for voters - in a city with the nation's highest
level of racially polarized voting.
and his Democratic surrogates have portrayed the investigation
as a racist attack against a powerful African American leader.
The mayor has been recast as a martyr.
says that claim is a cynical attempt to divert attention from
corruption and greed.
the probe is a product of racial animus has become almost a
given in the black community. And new polls show that the perception
is taking hold, that Street has solidified support in his African
American electoral base.
the FBI raided three city agencies and the offices of Street's
top fund-raiser late Thursday, Street said that the U.S. government
had "hijacked the election."
top political aide, George Burrell, went further.
don't want to hear the fact that everyone who's being complained
about in the investigation, in the media crusade, are people
of color," said Burrell, who is African American. "I
don't talk about race very often; I just say it's curious." Street
adviser A. Bruce Crawley, noting that the FBI also carted records
from the city's Minority Business Enterprise Council, called
the probe "racial profiling."
that his opponent's interpretation was going unchallenged,
Katz accused the mayor of "racial politicking" in
a Friday afternoon rally with black supporters.
Katz said, was unconcerned about lasting damage to race relations
in the city. "In order to survive, he's decided to divide," Katz
said. "This [investigation] is not about black or white,
it's about green - the color of corruption, greed and fear."
Temple University/CBS3/KYW-3 poll released last week found
that, in part, the initial fallout from the FBI investigation
helped Street. His support among African American voters increased
14 percentage points, for instance, and one in four black voters
said that the probe made them "more likely" to vote
Street led 48 percent to 41 percent, a reversal of the same
poll's findings last month.
ward leaders in African American neighborhoods say that people
are talking, are more interested in the election, and are more
firm in their support of Street.
a combination of anger and confusion," said State Rep.
Rosita Youngblood, Democratic leader of the 14th Ward, which
includes parts of Germantown, Tioga and Nicetown.
finding that people who may have been on the fence are now
more determined to support him," said Youngblood, who
probe has been a "godsend," said Councilwoman Jannie
Blackwell, the Democratic leader of the 46th Ward in West Philadelphia.
campaigns know turnout is the key. From the beginning, Street
strategists knew that in order to win, he needed to find a
way to spark passion among black voters, and in her view, the
bugging has done that.
a convoluted kind of way it ended up energizing this campaign
and this race like I don't think anything else could have," said
Blackwell, who is African American. "People feel that
they are now victims of Big Brother, or somebody watching you,
or McCarthyism: 'What's going on here?' "
divisions have long been a part of Philadelphia's political
topography. And they are thrown into sharper relief whenever
a black candidate is running against a white one - such as
in 1987, when Mayor Wilson Goode ran against Republican Frank
Rizzo. And in 1999, when Katz and Street met for the first
year, Katz carried 97 percent of the 742 voting divisions with
a majority white population, and Street prevailed in 98 percent
of the 750 city voting divisions with a black majority.
level of racially polarized voting is nowhere as high as it
is in Philadelphia," said David Bositis, a scholar with
the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an urban
affairs think tank in Washington.
cities with smaller black electorates - Houston and Denver,
for instance - have elected black mayors with substantial white
support in recent years, Bositis said. The difference in Philadelphia,
he said: White and black residents are about the same proportion
of the overall city population, and the city has a relatively
small Latino population to act as a political buffer.
crops up when the black and white populations are of comparable
size and there is competition for power," Bositis said. "Philadelphia
has just not had workable black-and-white coalitions at the
Finance Director Janice Davis, who has lived and worked in
New Orleans and Houston, said Philadelphia is far more racially
divided than those two cities.
was a deep shock coming from the deep South," said Davis,
who is black. "In the South, we dealt with it. It was
ugly for a while, and we got over it... . In Philadelphia,
we haven't dealt with it."
undertones often influence city politics, longtime players
and analysts say. The stage this time may have been set when
Street told the NAACP last year that "the brothers and
sisters are running the city," which angered many white
voters, who still talk about it.
don't have to inject race into a Philadelphia campaign - it's
in the bloodstream," said Democratic analyst Larry Ceisler,
a deputy campaign manager for Goode 16 years ago.
is unusual this time is how open it is, he said.
first, race arose in subtle ways, raised by inference and by
surrogates for the candidates.
Republican City Committee mailed a glossy brochure to white
areas in September urging voters to help Sam Katz "Take
Back Philly." Then John Dougherty, a white trade-union
leader, said that if Street "wasn't a black man, this
wouldn't be a close election." Katz countered earlier
this month with a TV ad that featuring a black woman from Germantown
who said, "The brother I'm voting for is Sam Katz."
before the bugging, there was plenty of evidence that race
would be a decisive factor this year.
only did an Oct. 1 Keystone Poll find black and white voters
polarized in their choice for mayor, but the two racial groups
had radically different views of the city itself.
70 percent of black residents thought Philadelphia was heading
in the right direction, while 61 percent of white residents
thought things were on the "wrong track." Just under
40 percent of white residents thought the city had improved
since 1999, but 61 percent of black residents rated it a better
place to live.
as if they are living in separate cities," said Berwood
Yost, director of the Floyd Institute Center for Public Opinion
Research at Franklin and Marshall College.
adviser Crawley, a founder of the African American Chamber
of Commerce, said that racial polarization is to be expected.
you see in the polls is just the history of politics in Philadelphia
and across the country," Crawley said last week on WHYY-FM. "People
vote for their own. It didn't start with blacks... . This is
just racial pride, ethnic pride at work."
the same time, Crawley, who is black, said that African Americans
know the government is capable of doing harm to their leaders,
citing J. Edgar Hoover's bugging of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. and a 20-year FBI probe of former Detroit mayor Coleman
Young that resulted in no charges.
Carl Singley, an African American adviser to Katz, said that
the Street campaign was employing a "scorched-earth policy
on race" to win. "I'm concerned that it will create
the kind of resentment we don't need in this city," Singley
said in an interview. "It's dirty pool, and it has to
stop if Philadelphia is ever going to move past the issue of
South Philadelphia yesterday, some prospective voters agreed.
has nothing to do with it," said 54-year-old Anthony Mancini,
who is white.
voting for Katz because he's the lesser of two evils," said
Mancini, taking a break from laying bricks at 17th and Geary
Streets in Packer Park. "The rest of this is just... chaos."
supporter Joe Mestichelli, 63, opined that the investigation
would most likely benefit Street.
don't think the bug really matters," said Mestichelli,
who is white. "Katz is involved with something, too. It
doesn't matter, whoever gets in there is still going to play
the game. I just hope they do a decent job."
discovery of the bug is also papering over differences among
political factions in the African American community.
example, former U.S. Rep. William Gray 3d, a Street nemesis
who pushed candidates against Street when he was a councilman,
went to the pulpit of his church last Sunday to score the FBI
for leaving "a cloud over this man's head."
J. Whyatt Mondesire, leader of the local NAACP and an occasional
Street critic: "The bug is the Crazy Glue that has put
the factions on the same page."
political future now may rest on how African American voters
assess the meaning of The Bug and, more specifically, how many
turn out to vote for him Nov. 4.
Garrison, of West Philadelphia, said she was suspicious of
the timing. "I don't trust the Republicans," said
Garrison, who is black. "They stole the 2000 presidential
election in Florida, and they'll do anything."
Harris, 23, a business-school student, said she liked what
has happened under Street in her neighborhood at 28th and Allegheny:
There are more police, and her 9-year-old son can play safely.
her identification with the mayor runs deeper, going beyond
wounded feelings about the investigation.
makes me proud to be a young black American," Harris said. "John
Street raised us up."
staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or [email protected]. Inquirer
staff writers Nathan Gorenstein, Michael Currie Schaffer,
Anthony S. Twyman and Sam Wood contributed to this article.