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Street Leads Philly Mayor Primary

May 19, 1999

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A black politician trying to live down his past as a hot-tempered activist had a strong lead in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary Tuesday over a white lawyer tied to controversial former Mayor Frank Rizzo.

With 59 percent of precincts reporting from all over the city, John Street, a former City Council president, had 63,994 votes, or 38 percent. Marty Weinberg, a political insider, had 49,551 votes, or 29 percent.

Former state welfare secretary John White Jr. had 37,876 votes, or 22 percent, and three lesser-known Democrats split the rest.

They were vying to succeed popular Mayor Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat who is credited with bringing the city back from the brink of financial ruin but is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

The winner will face businessman Sam Katz, who was unopposed in the GOP primary and is seeking to become Philadelphia’s first Republican mayor since 1952.

Weinberg was doing well in the blue-collar rowhouse neighborhoods of the nation’s fifth-largest city.

Street was running strong in his base in northern Philadelphia. But he had to battle with White and another candidates for the black vote. More than 40 percent of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million people are black.

Black leaders repeatedly called for at least one of the three black candidates to drop out of the race to give the remaining ones a better chance. Their pleas were ignored.

Weinberg was a political unknown in January but raised more than $5.2 million and launched an unprecedented advertising blitz. Street raised more than $3.4 million.

Many of Weinberg’s TV commercials were aimed squarely at Street, the front-runner throughout the race. Weinberg reminded voters of Street’s past as a community activist, showing old TV footage of Street shoving a reporter and throwing a cup of water on a police officer.

Weinberg also played up Street’s financial problems, pointing out that he defaulted on his student loans and declared bankruptcy.

The negative advertising led to criticism that Weinberg was playing to racial fears. Street mostly ignored the attacks, although he came out with an ad four days before the election that accused Weinberg of racial divisiveness.

Weinberg, meanwhile, had to answer questions about his long political relationship with Rizzo, whose administration was blamed for police brutality and financial mismanagement. Weinberg defended Rizzo as a good man who made mistakes.

On the issues, there was surprising consensus.

All of the candidates promised to focus on the neighborhoods, whose residents felt neglected during the city’s downtown building boom. The candidates said the mayor should play a bigger role in improving city schools and promised to build on Rendell’s legacy of economic expansion.

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