Monica Yant Kinney | Street proves to be tech savvy but tone deaf

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Mayor Street proudly shows off his new iPhone. He got in line at 3:30 a.m. yesterday outside an AT&T store in Center City and waited off and on until 6 p.m., when he became the third customer to buy one. At one point, he assigned a city police officer to hold his place in line.


Mayor Street imploded over an iPhone. Yet another self-made political disaster from a man who's mastered the art of not getting it.

Years ago, I watched a wrecking crew spend an entire day trying to blow up the old Jack Frost sugar refinery on Delaware Avenue.

Friday, it took Street one hour to go from grinning gadget geek to confused target of taxpayers and TV reporters as he waited in line outside an AT&T store in Center City to buy a $600 Apple iPhone.

Fox29 reporter Jeff Cole: "The city's in crisis and you're sitting here buying an iPhone?"

Street: "I'm taking care of city business. I'm fully and completely on duty."

Reporters and random passersby: But Mayor, shouldn't you be comforting families hit by homicide? There are hundreds of them to choose from, after all.

Street: "Mayors do not go to shootings."

Eventually, Street got fed up with the suggestions that the mayor of the nation's sixth-largest city should have something better to do than check e-mail al fresco while waiting for a new big-boy toy.

He planned to have a $45,000-a-year city aide keep his spot in line. But then he changed his mind and assigned a police officer to do it instead.

A cop as seat-warmer?

How can a mayor so plugged in be so checked out?

A fool's errand

The most powerful man in Philadelphia was sitting on a patio chair next to a trash Dumpster.

He arrived at the corner of 16th and Ranstead at 3:30 a.m. wearing a black rain suit, white Kangol cap, and New Balance running shoes.

Sadly, his wife was not in town to talk him out of the fool's errand.

"The biggest surprise to her was that they're going to make me wait until 6 tonight to get it," he told me.

Street didn't introduce himself to the two other men ahead of him, a 77-year-old artist and a 19-year-old would-be graphic designer.

But when one of them offered his Cheez-Its, Mayor Health Nut happily took a handful.

"It wasn't until daylight I realized, 'Hey, I'm sitting next to the mayor,' " said Christian Hain, the Art Institute student.

I reached the line around 10:30 a.m., when Street was still enjoying all the attention.

He pointed to the iPod Nano strapped to his left wrist. On it, a Hillary Clinton lecture.

He showed off his BlackBerry, though it wasn't clear if it was the same one seized by the FBI during the City Hall corruption probe that derailed his administration.

A politician who adores both monster trucks and itty-bitty cell phones, Street raved about being able to run the city on the run.

On Team Street, there's nothing that can't be done remotely.

"I would die if I had to stay in City Hall all day," he said.

Street smarts?

So why was he braving the elements for electronics?

"I decided I wanted one of these and the easiest way to get one would be to sit here," he told me.

Plus, his schedule was light.

His only public engagement? An 11:15 a.m. Adolescent Violence Reduction Partnership Luncheon in West Philadelphia, honoring 300 kids who aren't dead or in prison.

At 11:30 a.m., he was still in line.

Why leave to talk about murder and misery when you could stay and chirp about Philadelphia becoming a "135-square-mile hot spot" of wireless Internet service?

"The time," he said, looking at a crumpled schedule, "is flexible."

Suddenly, the guy who rose to power through neighborhood hell-raising seemed foreign - detached and distant, defined by a phone that costs more than many Philadelphia residents' rent.

If he realized how ludicrous he looked, he didn't let on. Street knows better and has done better, but tends to botch these moments.

Street rejoined the line after lunch. He stayed 45 minutes, left again at 2 p.m., and returned around 3:30 p.m.

At one point, his alley throne next to the Dumpster was unoccupied.

No sign was needed. By then, the world knew: This was Street's seat.



Contact Monica Yant Kinney

at myant@phillynews.com or 215-854-4670.

Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/yantkinney