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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 11:40 GMT
Bug scandal aids US mayor's campaign
The BBC's David Bamford
By David Bamford
BBC correspondent in Philadelphia

Voters are choosing mayors on Tuesday in Philadelphia and five other American cities.

With governors' elections also taking place in the states of Kentucky and Mississippi, political strategists will be analysing results to see if they reveal trends likely to influence next year's presidential election.

Philadelphia Mayor John Street gestures during an electoral forum in October
Street has taken the lead since bugs were found in his office
Campaigning in Philadelphia has been a roller coaster of an affair, complete with FBI bugging of government offices and bitter allegations of conspiracies and widespread corruption.

The Founding Fathers wrote America's two most treasured national documents in Philadelphia - the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The city has been in Democratic Party hands for over 50 years, but the incumbent mayor, John Street, is this time facing a well-funded campaign supporting his Republican rival, Sam Katz.

US ELECTIONS
For mayor: San Francisco, Des Moines, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Houston
For governor: Kentucky, Mississippi
The Republicans have recorded a series of slick TV advertisements seeking to portray the negative side of the incumbent's time in office.

"Clearly cronyism and corruption is alive and well in Philadelphia.

"But we need to try to create a city where people feel they can compete on a level playing field without regard to who they know, who they paid and who they hired," Mr Katz declared.

Conspiracy accusation

Mayor Street, like half of Philadelphia's total population, is African-American, a descendant of former slaves who flocked to this liberal city at the end of the American Civil War.

Chris Townsend monitors the Liberty Bell as it is moved to a new home in the city
Philadelphia is home to America's cracked Liberty Bell
His supporters accuse the Republicans of a conspiracy backed by the Bush federal government in Washington to try to end more than 50 years of Democratic control of Philadelphia.

The situation took a dramatic turn in early October, when police discovered electronic bugs in the mayor's office.

The FBI later admitted it had planted listening devices without the mayor's knowledge.

The agency said the bugging was part of an investigation into alleged corruption within the city government, though it said Mayor Street was a not himself a suspect.

But with the ensuing publicity about the FBI probe, the political damage to the mayor seemed to have been done.

Publicity

Or had it? According to Randall Miller, an election specialist, the revelations had the contrary effect.

It was... too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence that an FBI bug should be discovered just a few weeks before the election
Randall Miller,
Election specialist
"It's been bad publicity that has worked out very well for the mayor.

"There has been a sense of African Americans and some others rallying around him, not because he's a black mayor but because there is a tremendous sense of distrust among people who are distrustful of the federal government - and particularly the FBI, which has a long history of intruding into private lives," Mr Miller said.

"As the mayor has said, it was also too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence that an FBI bug should be discovered just a few weeks before the election," he added.

Qualified

Mayor Street has said that he has never handed out jobs or contracts to anybody who was not qualified to handle them.

But he freely admits that he has given work to political allies and family members.

He says this is established practice in the city.

You make a political donation, and you get something in return for it
Political analyst Brad Linder
"Philadelphia has a long history of people alleging corruption in city government.

"The way business gets done here is though what we call 'pay to play' - you make a political donation, and you get something in return for it," local political analyst Brad Linder said.

Former Democratic President Bill Clinton, his Vice-President Al Gore and political activist Jesse Jackson have all campaigned for Mayor Street in Philadelphia in the week prior to the election.

Mayoral elections are also scheduled on Tuesday in Houston; Indianapolis; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Des Moines, Iowa.

In San Francisco, nine candidates are competing to replace Mayor Willie Brown, who is leaving office.

Louisiana holds its gubernatorial election run-off election on 15 November.


SEE ALSO:
Workers' woes dog President Bush
04 Nov 03  |  Americas
Presidential hopefuls dash for cash
05 Aug 03  |  Americas
George W Bush's electoral strategy
16 May 03  |  Americas
Democrats clash in Bush's shadow
04 May 03  |  Americas


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