If you’re running as a Republican in Philly, you need a sense of humor. At least T. Milton Street has that going for him.
Street’s brother John is the city’s former mayor. His nephew Sharif is a current state senator. Yet Milton himself hasn’t held elected office since the 1980s, though he’s run numerous times. He also has a criminal record, and works as an Uber driver.
Despite all that, Street threw his hat into the race to rep the 181st PA House District in March. Since no one filed a petition challenging his candidacy, he’ll be running in the May 15 primary — as the lone Republican on the ballot.
At his campaign’s first press conference, held Monday evening at what could possibly be the tiniest church in North Philadelphia, Street appeared ready to rumble.
“He won’t have to walk around with his pants down across his butt,” he declared opaquely at one point during the night, ostensibly talking about whichever one of the six Democrats wins the nomination for the seat vacated by retiring 181st District Rep. Curtis Thomas. “I’m gonna pull them down for him.”
Street had a more concrete answer when it came to what inspired him to enter the race in the first place. Philadelphia, he said, is represented by a black caucus that on paper should be a formidable voice in Harrisburg. But to him, that’s undercut by the fact all of them are Democrats — aka the minority party in the Pennsylvania legislature.
“I can go to Harrisburg right now and have more influence with the Republicans, the majority, than most of these people here,” he said, gesturing animatedly toward a poster board with names of Philly’s Dem delegation. “As long as we are going to vote people to sit in a legislative position of weakness, you’re going to get nothing.”
The claim doesn’t come from nowhere. Street was in the legislature before.
Back in 1978, he actually held the seat he’s currently running for. In 1980, he ran for state senator and won. He was seated as a Democrat, but once he got to Harrisburg, he switched parties, and tipped the balance in favor of the Republicans. He was awarded with a committee chair position and a new office.
“I had the control of everything that came to Philadelphia,” Street said Monday night. “I was smart enough to get in the majority, and take control of a committee that made decisions.”
That supposed clout notwithstanding, there was one big idea he couldn’t get implemented three decades ago — one he said he intends to reintroduce if he gets elected this time around. What is it? Legalizing electronic bingo games to fund Philly’s schools.
“I’m putting in the video bingo again, and I’m not waiting until this election is over,” Street said.
His original proposal was shot down by the Supreme Court. At which point Street proposed decriminalizing marijuana as a way to raise funds. Everyone called him crazy, he noted. “I’m not crazy,” Street said, “I’m just before my time.”
According to him, he’s already in talks with Bally’s for the gaming machines to use for the video bingo, and is crunching numbers to figure out how much money it can generate for the city’s school system.
Street also presented plans to give people convicted of certain crimes jobs instead of sending them to prison, via a program he calls “Street Smart Community Control,” and generally promised to be a voice for Philly in the majority party.
“I don’t want some candidate coming into Philadelphia and giving us crumbs off the table,” Street said.
Street sees himself as the underdog, and truly believes he can win.
“I could have stayed in the legislature for 40 years,” he boasted. “All I had to do was sit in the minority, keep my mouth shut, be — as they say in the South — ‘a good negro,’ and everything would have been cool,” Street said. “I’ve never sat in a minority in my life. If you can’t do anything, why are you there?
Street emphasized his point: “This is not begging time, it’s politics.”