Tuesday, March 28, 2006

One-and-a-Half Cheers for Mayor Street

I'm sure that some of you who know me will accuse me of having taken leave of my senses, but I'm going to say this anyway:

John Street isn't as bad a mayor as I think he is.

Over the course of his two terms, he has identified some of the major issues that need addressing in this city, and on some of them, has come up with some programs that may produce results in the long run.

Chief among these is the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. Here he managed to put some very good minds to work looking at the issue of reclaiming deteriorated, largely abandoned communities, and these minds have produced solid thinking and good, workable strategies for their reclamation. Little by little, these bombed-out neighborhoods are coming back from the near-dead, and if a decade hence, we no longer look on large swaths of North Philadelphia as places to pass through as quickly as possible (unless we live there), Mayor Street will deserve the credit for having gotten the process started.

And while it was in force, Operation Safe Streets worked as designed: it chased crime away from some of the city's worst crime zones.

Unfortunately, Operation Safe Streets is also a reason why Street gets no more than a cheer and a half. This program was more a show of force than it was an effective long-term strategy to reduce crime, and it worked only at huge cost in police overtime. It might have been cheaper to simply hire additional full-time cops to identify, track and fight crime. Moreover, now that violent crime especially has taken a turn for the worse in the neighborhoods again, he cannot apply a "Safe Streets II" Band-Aid to the problem, nor can he implement the sorts of strategies that worked so well under Police Commissioner John Timoney in the previous administration.

Combine that with the fact that he has almost never run across a tax cut he could stomach at a time when cutting taxes would do so much for the city's long-term economic health and his public endorsement early in his administration of the cozy pay-to-play ethos that has long pervaded City Hall, and it should become clear that while Street may not be as bad as I think he is, he's still far from a good mayor, let alone a great one.

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