Democrat Wins Mayor's Seat In Philadelphia

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The election of Democrat John F. Street to succeed Edward G. Rendell as the mayor of Philadelphia was among the most significant education-related elections around the country last week.

Mr. Street, a former city councilman, narrowly defeated Republican business leader Sam Katz with 211,136 votes, or 50.2 percent, to 201,626, according to preliminary results. The mayoral election was widely seen as critical to the future of the school improvement program begun in 1994 by Superintendent David W. Hornbeck.

Elsewhere, in what may have been the first election of its kind in the nation, voters in Jefferson County, Colo., approved a bond measure that links tax increases with improvements in student test scores. Democratic candidates were elected mayor in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Houston, and Columbus, Ohio, while former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan easily won a seat on the Cincinnati school board.

In Philadelphia, both candidates had made education in the city's 215,000-student system a top issue, and Mr. Katz had promised big changes to the city's troubled schools, including privatization and possibly the ouster of Mr. Hornbeck.

Philadelphians voting in the Nov. 2 election also approved a measure that will allow the mayor to appoint school board members to serve during the mayor's term, replacing the current system of staggered terms that has often left a new mayor with a board majority appointed by someone else.

Mr. Street therefore will have broad power to guide the school district and to determine Mr. Hornbeck's future. Mr. Hornbeck has had a sometimes-rocky tenure in his five years as superintendent, but has succeeded in raising student test scores. ("Taking the High Road," Nov. 3, 1999.)

Mixed Messages

While Mr. Katz was more critical of Mr. Hornbeck during the campaign, Mayor-elect Street's advisers sent mixed messages last week about the superintendent's future.

In an interview the morning after Mr. Street's razor-thin, late-night victory, campaign spokesman Ken Snyder implied that Mr. Hornbeck could be on the way out. "It could just be that a good man who has got a good agenda is the wrong person for the job," Mr. Snyder said, "and we might have to make a change."

But later in the day, Marjorie Dugan, Mr. Street's campaign adviser for education, sought to soften that stance. "Has Street said publicly that when he takes office is he going to assess every office in the city? Yes. Is he on a hunt to replace Hornbeck? No," Ms. Dugan said.

She noted that the mayor-elect and superintendent have much in common, and added that Mr. Street largely supports Mr. Hornbeck's efforts to raise achievement.

"John Street has been a supporter of Superintendent Hornbeck throughout this campaign," Ms. Dugan said. "He thinks it's also important for there to be continuity."

William Epstein, the director of government relations for the school district, said the incoming mayor had assured Mr. Hornbeck of his support during a telephone conversation last week. "We have worked very closely with the mayor-elect over the last three years," Mr. Epstein said.

Campaign officials said Mr. Street might meet soon with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who has long opposed Mr. Hornbeck's frequent requests for additional state funding. The Republican governor also supports the idea of vouchers that would enable city students to attend private schools.

Ms. Dugan said the mayor-elect doesn't support vouchers, and that he won't even discuss the topic until he believes the state government has fully supported Philadelphia's public schools.

A New Kind of Levy

In Colorado, voters in Jefferson County, a suburban Denver district that is the state's largest with 88,000 students, narrowly approved the bond measure linked to accountability. The measure calls for a tax increase to raise $25 million for instructional programs this year.

Then, it calls for incremental raises each year—up to $45 million in the final year of the five-year program—if the district meets performance goals on state tests set by the school board.

Marilyn Saltzman, a spokeswoman for the district, said the plan for a bond issue linked to accountability grew out of a citizens' committee formed to address budget issues after a levy failed last year.

"As far as we know, this is unique," Ms. Saltzman said of the performance-linked measure. "We feel that our community has voted for quality education, and we will be accountable to them. It's a five-year promise."

Jefferson County's plan deserves praise for allowing local people to have a greater say, said Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association, based in Alexandria, Va.

Ms. Bryant cautioned, however, that communities must ensure that schools have the resources available to meet achievement goals. And she suggested that the goals should include more than just higher test scores. "Our definition of student achievement goes beyond a state test. That is: it's arts and music, it's student leadership, it's safety, it's teachers getting good professional development," Ms. Bryant said.

Mayoral Victories

In other mayoral races, Democrats captured the top city jobs in Baltimore, Cincinnati, Columbus, Houston, and Indianapolis.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was forced into a runoff with two Democratic challengers. None of the mayors in those cities has direct authority over schools.

In Cincinnati, Mr. Gilligan's election to an at-large school board was widely expected. The 78-year- old former Ohio governor, who in his long career has also been city councilman and a U.S. representative, said his election, along with that of two other newcomers, and the defeat of one incumbent, was a sign voters were ready for change in the city school system.

"What it suggests to me is that the electorate, or at least those who took the trouble to get out and vote, have lost confidence in the school system," Mr. Gilligan told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

In Other Races

Bond votes across the nation brought a mixed bag of approval and rejection.

In suburban Washington, voters in Fairfax County, Va., approved a $297 million plan for school buildings in the 156,000-student district.

Bond votes were an issue in some Southern California districts, gaining approval in Orange County's fast-growing Santa Ana Unified and Capistrano Unified districts, and in Los Angeles County's El Monte City district.

Voters in the Anoka-Hennepin district in suburban St. Paul, Minn., approved a $106 million referendum to build three schools and renovate others.

And in the 6,500-student Claremont, Calif., school district near Los Angeles, two school board candidates who had been accused of having links with white supremacist groups were soundly defeated. John Hale McGee and Richard W. Bunck each received less than 4 percent of the vote. Both had denied local news accounts suggesting they had been active in hate groups.

Vol. 19, Issue 11, Page 3

Published in Print: November 10, 1999, as Democrat Wins Mayor's Seat In Philadelphia
Related Stories
Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories