In the last days of the race, John Street worked to keep Democrats for defecting. Experts said the race would have a photo finish. They were right. The final Polaroid showed John Street edging just past Sam Katz, winning the mayoralty by a mere percentage point. In the weeks preceding the election, polls showed the candidates running neck and neck and the momentum seemed to be for Katz, the Republican former business executive who made the best showing by a GOP candidate since 1947. But in the final days of the campaign, Street cranked up the Democratic Party machine. His team furiously canvassed the city, telling voters to respect party loyalty. He even received a supportive visit from President Clinton, who filmed commercials and made a tape recording that was used for telephone solicitations. And with a razor-thin 7,200-vote margin of victory, Street just barely avoided the distinction of being the first Democrat to lose a Philadelphia mayoral race in more than 50 years. "I sort of knew for us to win it would have to be close," Street spokesperson Ken Snyder said, adding that "Sam was a tremendous candidate." Street received strong support from all the city's African-American neighborhoods and did well enough in working-class white areas expected to vote heavily for Katz to carry the election. Penn Public Policy and History Professor Ted Hershberg said that a key component of Street's victory was his moderate success in the white blue-collar neighborhoods in Northeast and South Philadelphia. He explained that local Democrats targeted these areas, urging lower-class workers and union members to vote Democratic even if they weren't particularly fond of Street, the former City Council president with a controversial past. "In the dynamic of the election, the difference was in those wards," Hershberg said. Still, it was a very slight difference. Street squeaked through to victory by the lowest margin in modern city history. Noting the 1 percent margin, Katz spokesperson Bob Barnett said, "You can't do better than that without winning." Winning seemed to be almost in sight for Katz over the past few weeks. He ran a skillful campaign that avoided using the word Republican and focused on his plans to reinvigorate the city economy by cutting taxes and encouraging business development. But it was an uphill battle in a heavily Democratic city. Street's campaign acknowledged the definite and unexpected challenge it faced. "We seriously underestimated Sam's candidacy," Snyder admitted. Street, after all, was the longtime Democrat with the experience and know-how, the partner of and designated heir to popular outgoing Mayor Ed Rendell. After a bruising primary election, many thought he would coast to victory. But some voters were not crazy about their Democratic option, and Katz was able to capitalize on discontent within the opposing party. Street has a reputation for being a powerful -- and at times ruthless -- politician. During his 19-year tenure on City Council he was famed for aggressively seeking the votes he needed. And despite Rendell's endorsement, many think Street lacks Rendell's spunk and charm. Still, the Street team felt confident enough about its candidate to virtually drop out of sight during the summer months, waiting until fall to start the campaign up again. But when they returned to business in September, a few problems had sprung up. The key one was Sam Katz. Katz posed a huge threat to Street's candidacy. He vigorously campaigned with a moderate conservative platform and received key endorsements from influential Democrat John White, as well as former City Council member Happy Fernandez and the two major newspapers in the city. "Katz ran a superb campaign," said former Rendell chief of staff and Street ally David L. Cohen, who praised the campaign for remaining "totally issue focused." With the support of White, a leader in the African-American community, Katz's candidacy became legitimate for many Democratic voters who were feeling guilty about crossing party -- or racial -- lines. But although Katz couldn't take down the staunchly Democratic city, Republican leaders say the tight race proves that the GOP's support is growing in Philadelphia. Republican National Committee spokesperson Mark Pfeifle said the Republican party was proud of Katz's effort. He added that Katz's wide support indicated that the Philadelphia area is becoming more sympathetic to the party -- which may bode well for the 2000 elections. "It says that the Republican message of local decision making, pro-business, tough on crime and strong schools resonates in America," Pfeifle said.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.