Mayoral candidate T. Milton Street readily acknowledges his close ties to both his younger brother, former mayor John Street, and to his colorful past, including stints as a state representative, state senator and federal prison inmate.
Street, 74, believes his experiences in all four instances have prepared him well as he takes on Lynne Abraham, Jim Kenney, Doug Oliver and Anthony Williams in the May 19 Democratic mayoral primary election.
“If it weren’t for John Street, there would be no Milton Street,” he said during a meeting this week with The Tribune’s editorial board. He cited protests at the Center City Gallery shopping center against developers who were attempting to ban vendors from transit concourses.
“Because at the time [of the protests against the Gallery] the legal arm of our organization was critical,” Street said. “When we went into city council and handcuffed ourselves to the seats, John Street was on the case.”
Street said his brother nearly “went bankrupt” defending their group through its various political and economic fights for equality. T. Milton Street has seen his share of both during his 40-plus years as a public figure.
He was elected to the state House in 1978, representing the 181st District, and to the state Senate in 1980. In a move shocking at the time, Street then almost immediately switched party affiliations to Republican, which gave the GOP control of the House.
He also defied the Democratic machine when he unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Congressman Bill Gray in 1982. Street then lost his reelection as state senator in 1984 to Roxanne Jones, only to resurface as a candidate in the 2007 mayoral race, one from which he quickly withdrew to announce a run for city council at–large in that same year.
Street’s residency was challenged in that 2007 council election, but was ultimately allowed to remain on the ballot but lost the race. Undeterred by the string of defeats, Street launched another mayoral bid in 2011 to unseat incumbent Michael Nutter. Once dismissed as a nonviable candidate, he won 25 percent of the vote in that election — enough of the vote to convince him to once again run for mayor this year.
However, between mayoral campaigns, on Feb. 22, 2008, Street was convicted of three counts of tax evasion for years 2002, 2003 and 2004. He was acquitted on mail and wire fraud charges, and was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison.
In fact, it is that stint in prison that helped shape Street’s views on community policing and embracing ex–felons when they reenter society — two tentpoles of Street’s agenda.
Part of the plan, Street said, would be to create the 414 Community Movement to Stop the Violence, an initiative Street said would curb inner–city violence.
This group of individuals would be unarmed, and would patrol the neighborhoods in which they live. Street said this group would go beyond the scope of a regular town watch, as members would look to preempt violent occurrences and build bridges between the community and the police.
“Our playgrounds aren’t safe, our streets aren’t safe, our swimming pools aren’t safe and we shouldn’t have to live like that,” Street said, noting that his community plan is based off the Old and New Testament Bible verses found in Romans 15:4. “There is no reason why we have to live like that. And the only people, in my mind, who can stop the violence in the community are the people that live there; you can’t import people.
“So, 414 is a community network of community safety patrols where it’s a form of community policing that goes a further step than town watch.”
Street would set up a pilot program to staff the community movement.
He said he will soon release a policy paper that further details his efforts on crime prevention, public education and the economy, but he did offer previews of his positions on schools and jobs.
For public education, Street would once again back an idea to legalize video bingo, an effort the candidate believes could raise hundreds of millions of dollars for public education. Street bases that belief on the fact that roughly $1 billion of lottery receipts go toward programs for the elderly. He also honed the idea when he was state senator.
“The $2–per–pack cigarette tax is not going to work; people can go to Montgomery County, Delaware, New Jersey — any place to to get those,” Street said. “What you have to do is get enabling legislation — and I think I can get this done — that will enable us to raise a sufficient amount of money to fund education through games of choice.
“I was upset because we just missed a major opportunity just last year as the Republicans passed small games of choice legislation if anybody had put in that amendment[to allow video bingo], it would have passed,” he added.
Street is in favor of allowing the School Reform Commission to continue to exist, but did say he would look to reform its design and abilities. Street, however, strongly rejected the 9.34 percent increase in real estate taxes to fund the schools, a proposal recently submitted by Nutter.
“The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘fool’ as an individual or group of individuals pursuing a course contrary to knowledge,” Street said. “To ask for a tax increase in an election year is foolish; it’s just foolish. Nobody is going to vote for a tax increase in an election year, Okay? So that proposal qualifies for the definition of ‘foolish.’ It’s stupid.
“My position on the commission is that, until we can get an independent funding source, we need that,” Street continued. “It gives the state some responsibility to fund the schools. The state took over the schools under my brother’s administration, because there just was not enough money, with the way we were operating in the city. So if you don’t have some adequate enabling legislation to disassemble the commission, [killing the commission now] would put us right back to where we were before, with no money.”