Saturday, January 31, 2015
The field for the Democratic nomination for mayor appears settled and for me the choice is clear—former councilman Jim Kenney. I’ve always liked Jim Kenney, an intelligent guy with good policy positions, who cares about ordinary Philadelphians, and who would probably be a very good mayor. He is the candidate mostly likely to build the broad based, cross-racial coalition necessary to win and to govern.
Jim Kenney has been out front on a range of progressive issues, a champion of LGBT rights before it was politically safe to do so. According to Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal”Kenney has been a friend of the LGBT community and its struggle for equality for over 25 years, and has sponsored, co-sponsored or supported every LGBT equality measure in Council for the last 23 years.” His recent achievements include the groundbreaking 2013 LGBT Equality Bill and the 2014 LGBT-specific hate crimes legislation.
Jim Kenney was among the first to envision Philadelphia as a global city and to see Philadelphia’s immigrant population as an asset. From Will Bunch’s recollections of Kenney over the years: "‘We as a city government must do everything we can to address our population loss, and increasing immigration is a critical step in the right direction,’ Kenney told an October 2000 City Council hearing that he'd called on the topic.” More recently Kenney has been commended by immigrant rights groups for his work to end immigrant detentions known as ICE holds.
Jim Kenney led the fight for the decriminalization of marijuana focusing on the racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws and the tragic consequences of a criminal record for so many young people.
He has pledged to maintain and build upon Mayor Nutter's ethics reforms and he has advocated innovative ideas on planning/ land use issues.
Kenney acknowledges that he does not have a detailed plan for improving public education but he knows that adequate funding is a major part of the problem and rejects using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools as a solution. This is a critical time for public education with one of the leading candidates Anthony Williams on record in favor of a voucher system which would lead to further dismantling of our system of public education.
Working class Philly will have a powerful advocate in Mayor Kenney: From District 1199C President Henry Nicholas : "Jim Kenney has been a lifelong advocate for Philadelphia's working families. He comes from a union home as the son of firefighter and he's earned his own union card at age 17. Jim has worked to protect bargaining rights and has always been a straight talker and in his approach with labor."
Kenney is strong on progressive issues, but particularly for executive positions, it’s not just a matter having the right policies. Leadership ability matters and character matters. Kenney’s legislative successes demonstrate his leaderhship skills and everyone I know who knows Jim Kenney thinks he is a very decent human being. (Yes, the famous Kenney temper can be a cause for concern, and maybe some of his tweets are over the top.)
I got an insight into Jim Kenney’s character when my son was a student and assigned to interview a local elected official. My son reached out to just about every local official but none replied with the exception of Kenney. He spent over an hour with my son answering his questions. Kenney told him that he always tried to honor requests from students; he felt a responsibility to share what he knew about government with a younger generation. My son who is a real Kenney fan reminded me of this recently and it’s consistent with so much of what I have heard from those who have worked with him.
However, there’s no such thing as a candidate perfect in every way and I have some reservations about his candidacy based primarily on his political alliances. But as a good friend reminded me, Kenney is nobody’s puppet; his financial supporters are not likely to control him.
I had hoped to see a mayoral candidate concerned about the current state of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. The mayor could use the bully pulpit to argue it’s in the city’s interest to have a cleaner, more open Democratic party—both in terms of increased turnout and in terms of getting talented young people involved in the party. The Democratic Party must change if it is ever to attract young people who expect to have a vote and a voice at the ward level. Maybe it takes a “Nixon goes to China” leader to do this and maybe Jim Kenney might be that leader but I have seen nothing yet to suggest that he’s interested in reforming the Philadelphia Democratic party.
However, I do know Jim Kenney has the capacity to listen to those with different perspectives and that he is capable of questioning the status quo and open to new approaches.
I intend to do whatever I can to ensure he becomes mayor and encourage my friends and neighbors to support him.