John F. Street

Jeremy Nowak
Edward G. Rendell

When receiving the Philadelphia Award, John Street was a respected politician, at the pinnacle of his political effectiveness. Street became president of the City Council in 1992, the same year Ed Rendell became mayor and at a time of dire financial crisis for the city. The impetus behind the Street-Rendell accord was, most probably, “the simple recognition that the city’s fiscal crisis threatened to swallow their careers along with the city.” With a City Council known for obstructionism, Street delivered majority votes on critical issues including budgets, a five-year financial plan, city charter reform and redistricting. These votes, desired by Rendell, saved the city from an economic abyss and led to increased business investments in the city.

R on Naples, chairman of the Philadelphia Award, said, “It’s refreshing to find two leaders working together as do Mayor Rendell and Council President Street.” That Street would be awarded for effective working relations with the mayor would have been unthinkable when he started his public career. First as a scruffy-bearded defense lawyer wearing jogging suits and sneakers and then as a city councilman, Street proudly considered himself one of “the rabble-rousers.” Portrayed in his early Council days as irresponsible and a “quick-tempered outsider,” Street’s behavior supported those accusations. He once protested a ruling by grabbing a stenotype machine and running around the Council floor with it, was forced off the Gas Commission after falling $5,600 behind in his ass, and exchanged punches with and threw ice water at fellow councilmen.

But Street learned on the job, changing much of his behavior as he gained experience and a better understanding of politics. He arrived early each day, worked tirelessly, and studied all aspects of city government. Street developed a reputation as being “intelligent, pragmatic and effective.” Councilman W. Thacher Longstreth described Street’s metamorphosis when he said, “He went from being just about the most irresponsible to the most responsible and important member of Council.” Charles Pizzi, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, opined that Street “has demonstrated the best evolution in recent Philadelphia political history. He has honed his political skills in an extraordinary way, and there’s no other legislator who is as well prepared on any issue as he is.”

During his two terms as mayor, Street advanced an ambitious agenda. While Center City under Rendell had undergone a remarkable renaissance (which deepened under Street’s administration), Street launched bold initiatives to improve life in Philadelphia’s less affluent neighborhoods. Most of the city’s high-rise public housing towers, which had become miserable places to live, were torn down and replaced (in part) with attractive, single unit public housing. The city removed 250,000 abandoned cars. Street waged an anti-blight initiative to tear down or renovate abandoned houses. Street also secured funding for two new sports stadiums and advanced the development of the Navy Yard.

After leaving office, Street remains an influential and controversial figure in city politics.

David Haugaard

Sources: William W. Sutton, Jr., “‘Rabble-Rouser’ Street Has Changed His Style,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 1986; Thomas Turcol, “Mr. President Street: It’s A Changed Man Who Takes Over at City Council Today,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 6, 1992; Doreen Carvajal, “It’s Not the Same Old Council Under Street,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 28, 1992; Matthew Purdy and Doreen Carvajal, “Philadelphia’s Odd Power Couple,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 1993; Peter Nicholas, “Rendell and Street Share an Award,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 14, 1996; Monica Yant and Cynthia Burton, “Grasp of Detail, Power Shows Two Sides of Street,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 19, 1999; Ken Dilanian, “Old Ally Gives Rendell a Helping Hand,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8, 2002; Acel Moore, “For Street, The Big Challenge Is Being Open To Compromise,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 10, 2002; Steve Goldstein and Amy Worden, “Street’s Skills as a Lobbyist up for Debate,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 27, 2003; Marcia Gelbart, “Street’s Image Blurs his Legacy, “Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 2006; Editorial, “A Look at Mayor Street’s Legacy,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 30, 2007; Mark Fazlollah and Jennifer Lin, “Street Faces Probe in PHA case,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 12, 2011. Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Comment: While in Council, Street protested apartheid by sponsoring the nation’s first law forcing a divestiture of any city pension funds with ties to South Africa. Supporters and detractors alike identify him as a man of his word and a devoted family man who found time to spend with his young son, despite his demanding schedule.