Milton's Paradise Lost
A fallen mayoral contender, the nuttiest Street turns his attention to weed and City Council.
From the March 14, 2007 Philadelphia Weekly
T. Milton Street sits slumped on a dented metal radiator cover in the southwest corner of City Hall, his back resting against the cold, mottled red-and-black marble wall. He seems tired.
His 19-day mayoral campaign has just come to an end, but he has submitted more than the required number of signatures to make a run for an at-large City Council seat.
His eyes continue to bulge from his head, but his voice - which was so alive and engaging at his not-so-grand rally six days before - is now subdued.
"We don't take advantage of all our natural resources," he says sincerely, passionately. "Marijuana is the largest cash crop in America."
The 67-year-old unemployed former hot dog vendor - who wanted to replace his brother as mayor despite the fact he's facing federal charges for corruption and tax evasion - wants to decriminalize marijuana.
"Yeah, and sell it through the state stores, just like they sell liquor," Street says with conviction, as though debating the point would be ludicrous. "It's not as detrimental to your health as alcohol."
The man who may or may not live in Moorestown, N.J., thinks legalizing marijuana could be a way of alleviating property taxes, funding schools and adding police officers. He says he tried to get legislation passed in 1982 when he served as a state senator in Harrisburg, but he couldn't rally support.
"It's all about money," he concedes. "It's all about economics."
Street had arrived at City Hall about an hour earlier, shortly before the deadline to file petitions to run for elected office. He greeted a small contingent of waiting journalists by announcing the demise of his mayoral run.
"The No. 1 reason I'm stepping down is that I can't win," Street said. "I turn on my TV, and all I see is Knox, Knox, Knox."
The black vote was already split among three African-American candidates, he said, and he didn't want to make the path to the mayor's office any easier for flush-funded candidate Tom Knox.
Now he wants the three African-American candidates - Dwight Evans, Chaka Fattah and Michael Nutter - to pool their resources. And he wants two of them to exit the race.
"What I'd like is to see them three go in a room and knuckle," Street said. "Whoever has the best chance of winning, they all come out united."
Refusing to reveal his preference, Street said, "If Nutter is that person, I'll support him."
Only two weeks earlier, Street had dubbed Nutter "Watermelon Man," referring to a 1970 movie about a bigoted white man who wakes up one morning as a black man.
"Come on, fellas," Street said when asked about his previous comments. "Let's bury the hatchet. Let's unite. Let's unify. We're running against a multi-multimillionaire."
In the same breath Street announced his candidacy for an at-large Council seat. He had what he said were 1,500 signatures. He claimed to have collected them over a three-day period, starting the day after his P.T. Barnum-like mayoral campaign rally drew only a few hundred people despite the organ music soundtrack and mahogany casket prop.
Many of the signatures belong to the city's most desperate, Street said.
"I was out there last night at some of the homeless shelters, and those brothers are ready to do things," he said, noting that if you give a homeless guy a few dollars, they'll help you however they can.
As Street spoke to the media, his nephew Sharif Street eavesdropped. Only moments earlier the son of the current mayor submitted 5,600 signatures to make his run for an at-large Council seat official.
"There's my nephew right there," Milton Street bellowed. "Sharif, come down here!"
But Sharif just waved and tried to walk away.
"Haven't you really given him the shaft today?" Daily News City Hall reporter Mark McDonald asked. "You're running against him."
"There are five seats," Street barked. "I'm not running against him."
McDonald redirected, "I just wondered whether you let him know before you came down here that you collected signatures for a Council run, not a mayoral run."
"I figured there were five seats," Milton retorted. "If I get one, there are four left."
(For his part, the stoic Sharif Street said, "I found out when everyone did.")
Milton Street said he hadn't informed his brother either.
"I'm independent!" he pronounced indignantly. "I don't go and ask other people to buy into what I do."
After filing his signatures, Milton Street walked to the Department of Records with a trail of reporters in his wake.
"I'm talking about love and fighting corruption, and I get nothing," quipped mayoral candidate Queena Bass as Milton and the media ignored her.
When the crowds finally dissipated, Street parked on the radiator to catch his breath.
He stands up, pulls a black hoodie over his lumpy bald head and walks out of City Hall into the cold air. Street knows the establishment will challenge his signatures, and his bid for office may be cut short.
"I'd like to get all the people running for Council at-large, and pool all of our finances, hire some of the best lawyers in the country and fight the Democratic City Committee," he says as the giant face of Sharif Street rolls by on an advertisement on the side of a SEPTA bus.
T. Milton Street still has the fire.
"Let's all run for office," he scoffs. "Everybody run. You got a constituency? Go out there and run."