May 8-14, 2003
Gale Warning: Not Getting Katz's Tongue
Protesters tried but failed to faze Sam Katz during a West Philly campaign stop. Sam Katz got an early taste of things to come last Thursday, May 1, when he kicked off his mayoral campaign on the streets of Philadelphia. He electrified the crowd in Mayfair with his official "One Team, One Philadelphia" speech. He danced the Mummers strut with shoppers at the Italian Market. Then he came to Big Georges Stop n Dine at 52nd and Spruce in West Philly and the party came to a screeching halt.
It went well enough inside the eatery, where Katz schmoozed and made nice with diners who seemed only slightly distracted by his presence. Then he went outside and across the street to chat with some people waiting for the 52 bus and it got real ugly real fast.
Maybe a half-dozen protesters descended on the diner carrying anti-Katz signs and joined the crowd of 50 or so who pressed against Katz, trying to talk and trying to listen. The poster-board signs bearing "Katz = The End of Safe Streets," "Sam Katz Will End Safe Streets" and "If Katz Only Had a Brain" were neatly lettered by what seemed to be the same hand and were much more polite than the people carrying them. One person carried a scarecrow, a reference to the oft-repeated Katz comment that Operation Safe Streets was no better than "scarecrow policing."
Amid angry cries of "You don't live here!", "Go home!" and my personal, all-purpose favorite, "Shut the fuck up!", Katz stood his ground, feebly attempting to talk issues while the swelling crowd encircled him. Many reminded him of the fact that he doesn't live in the neighborhood and wouldn't even drive through with the car windows down. Others sneered and taunted Katz with the fact that if John Street hadn't beaten him by a narrow margin in '99, there's no way he'd be here in the heart of West Philly's African-American community. Through it all, Katz continued to tout his ideas for tax relief and neighborhood blight removal and job opportunities for all Philadelphians.
You really have to give him credit. It couldn't have been easy. Most politicians, when faced with hostile audiences, hustle back into the car and speed off. Katz, however, withstood the slings and arrows of the outrageous crowd and even managed to keep the smile plastered on his face the entire time.
Later, Katz campaign press secretary Maureen Garrity speculates but refuses to say outright whether the Katz camp believes the protesters were sent by the mayor's re-election campaign.
"Let's just say we heard it from a number of sources," Garrity says cagily. "And we're not surprised if it's true. The mayor has serious concerns about Sam's candidacy, and well he should. Proof of that concern is the fact that already Mayor Street has campaign commercials airing. It's almost unheard of for an incumbent running unopposed in the primary to start this early spending lots of money to trash his opponent in the general election. He's nervous."
Street re-election campaign spokesperson Frank Keel laughs heartily at the idea that the protesters were planted by the mayor's people.
"I can tell you unequivocally that we didn't have anything to do with it," Keel says, still chuckling. "Many people, especially people in communities hit hardest by crime and drugs, were ticked off by Katz's Safe Streets comment. Obviously, those people felt strongly enough to come out and let Katz know how they feel."
OK, but it sure seemed well organized for a spontaneous outpouring of community outrage. What about the signs, all written in the same hand? What about the fact that the protesters all arrived at once and used language right out of Street's campaign literature? Coincidence, Keel says.
"Sam Katz is blaming Mayor Street for everything but the heartbreak of psoriasis," says Keel. "He got himself in hot water for his own words. He said what he said and now he's looking for someone to blame other than himself."
Strangely (or not), during the course of researching and making telephone calls for quotes on this piece, I received two calls at my office from people who, on condition of anonymity, were willing to talk off the record about what Street's people knew about the Katz protest and when they knew it. For me, this also portends an early taste of things to come.
The backroom brawlers and behind-the-scenes operatives, like those folks who call news reporters with juicy bits of unsolicited gossip designed to make one candidate look like a jackass, are going to come out in force. And although they may not say so, don't expect Katz's people to take this lying down. The mayor will also have to make many campaign stops in neighborhoods where he's not exactly Mr. Popular, so don't be surprised if he's met by even more than the usual amount of animus. More than just a political campaign, this is Mad Max's Thunderdome, where the only rule is "two men enter, one man leaves".
Daryl Gales weekly radio show, Dialogues, with co-hosts Rotan Lee and Bill Miller, is burning up the airwaves Fridays 7-10 a.m. on WURD (900 AM) in Philadelphia.