Milton Street, who was one of the most well-known politicians in Philadelphia over the last 50 years, died on Monday at the age of 81, his family said. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Street worked in the Pennsylvania House and Senate. Later, he ran for mayor of Philadelphia several times, each time with a unique style.
Street’s family said in a statement that he was elected as a state senator in Pennsylvania because he worked hard to make sure everyone had the same economic opportunities. “Senator T. Milton Street Sr. gave small businesses, people of color, the homeless, and working families who had been without housing and equal opportunities for a long time the power to vote.”
Street was the brother of John Street, who used to be mayor of Philadelphia, and the uncle of Sharif Street, who is now a state senator. “Motivated by unfair policies that made it harder for poor people to achieve the American dream, he worked to make a government that served the people in a more fair and equal way,” said a statement from his family.
Street got his start in politics when he was a youth leader at the Ebenezer SDA Church in South Philadelphia. There, he learned to be bold and creative in his political actions. His career was marked by his work to help the homeless and his desire to fight against the long-standing neglect of the people he worked for, such as people who needed a place to live and street vendors who had to deal with unfriendly policies. Violence prevention was also a big part of Street’s political platform.
During his time in the General Assembly, Street upset people when, after being elected in 1980, he switched from being a Democrat to a Republican. This gave the GOP control of the Senate. After that, he ran for Congress but lost in 1982, and when he switched back to the Democratic Party in 1984, he lost his bid to stay in the Pennsylvania Senate. Over the next few decades, he would run for office as a member of both parties and as an independent.
The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus remembered Street as a good person in his community. The PLBC said, “He came from humble beginnings and worked hard to build a successful business and advocate for other businesses, which led him to the state’s General Assembly.” “After he left the state Senate, he worked hard to build his businesses and became a pillar of the community. He helped many people by being their guide and friend. We’ll miss him.”
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Street’s career as an entrepreneur was also marked by wrongdoing and ethical blunders, such as when he was indicted by the federal government in 2006 on corruption and tax-related charges. While his brother was mayor, one of Street’s businesses won contracts with the Philadelphia International Airport to sell goods and give advice. Street was found guilty of owing $3 million in income taxes that he did not pay. He went to prison for 26 months.
Street ran unsuccessfully for mayor and an at-large seat on City Council before his trial. Later, he ran for mayor but lost in 2015 and 2019. In 2018, he also lost his bid to get back into the state House. Street’s political image in Philadelphia may have been a mess, but he was undeniably a showman who loved to create dramatic scenes that were almost too crazy to believe.
When Street ran for office in 2007, he held a press conference in front of City Hall, but only about 100 people showed up. Street sang operatic gospel songs while standing over a coffin to bring attention to the city’s gun violence problem. It was a strange performance that has been saved on YouTube for all time.
In 2018, at the end of his career, Street played up his role as a provocateur by pushing for the School District of Philadelphia to use more video poker and electronic bingo machines to raise money. Street was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago, and his health got worse.
In a statement, his family said, “He fought to break down barriers and imagined ways that government could work for regular people by making changes through policy, no matter what political party he was a part of.”