- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mayor John Street gets polite applause when he talks about policy on the campaign trail these days. The big cheers come when he mentions the bug planted in his office by the FBI.

In the two weeks since news broke that Mr. Street was a subject of a federal investigation, Philadelphia’s second black mayor has sought to cast himself as a man being persecuted because of his race, and the message appears to be resonating with black voters.

Stumping throughout the city over the weekend, two weeks ahead of the Nov. 4 election, Mr. Street received raucous ovations from supporters. They hollered approval when he said the investigation is nothing more than a Republican dirty trick.

“I think people in this city are enormously fair, and they don’t like it when they think an injustice is happening,” Mr. Street explained as he campaigned Sunday at supermarkets and churches. “People can’t figure this out, so therefore they are left to conclude that something funny is probably happening.”

Confounding expectations, a poll suggests that Mr. Street’s campaign against white Republican businessman Sam Katz has been reinvigorated by the bugging and by a subsequent series of FBI raids on city departments.

A Temple University/CBS3/ KYW-AM poll released last week had Mr. Street apparently leading Mr. Katz, with 48 percent of likely voters to Mr. Katz’s 41 percent. In the same poll a month ago, Mr. Katz had 46 percent to 40 percent.

The survey also exposed the sharp racial divide in the campaign, and how differently black and white voters have reacted to the bugging, which the FBI has yet to explain.

Among blacks, Mr. Street’s popularity has surged, with 84 percent saying they intended to vote for the mayor, up from 70 percent last month. Among whites, 72 percent said they would vote for Mr. Katz, up 1 point from a month ago.

If that trend continues, it could be bad news for Mr. Katz.

Philadelphia is nearly equally divided between blacks and whites, and voters in city elections traditionally split along ethnic lines. During Mr. Street’s first matchup against Mr. Katz, in 1999, neither candidate was able to cross color lines to muster much support. Mr. Street prevailed by fewer than 10,000 votes, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 4 to 1.

The chief federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has strongly denied the FBI probe was politically or racially motivated. And Mr. Katz has accused the Democrats of trying to exploit the city’s racial divisions.

“They know this investigation isn’t about race. It’s about corruption,” Mr. Katz said.

Republicans have rejected the notion that the probe was planned to disrupt the election. The public would have never learned of the investigation, Mr. Katz noted, if Mr. Street’s own security detail had not found the listening devices during a sweep of his office Oct. 7.

But for some Street supporters, those facts have been overshadowed by the investigation’s apparent focus on black political figures.

FBI agents hauled away boxes of files last week from the offices of Ronald A. White, a prominent black lawyer and one of the mayor’s best fund-raisers. Agents also raided the offices of Shamsud-din Ali, a religious leader at an influential mosque, and served a subpoena on the city’s Minority Business Enterprise Council, which helps businesses owned by women and minorities get city contracts.

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