Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has launched a political action committee to raise money for progressive candidates across Pennsylvania, rekindling speculation that he may run for governor in 2022.
“I’ve formed a new political action committee called Kenney PAC — which will help progressive candidates in the forthcoming legislative races in Pennsylvania defeat extremist pro-Trump Republicans who are inspired and driven by the hatred and division emanating from the current occupant of the White House,” Kenney wrote in an email to supporters.
Kenney, who is not well known outside Philadelphia, would need to increase his visibility in other parts of the state to mount a successful gubernatorial campaign. Backing and potentially campaigning with Democratic legislative candidates in the 2020 election cycle could help him improve his stature outside the city.
Micah Mahjoubian, a staffer for state Sen. Sharif Street (D., Phila.), on Tuesday afternoon posted the email on Facebook and commented, “So, about those rumors that Mayor Kenney is running for Governor...”
Kenney campaign spokesperson Marty O’Rourke confirmed Kenney has launched the new PAC. Asked what Kenney’s current thinking is on a gubernatorial run, O’Rourke said, “The Mayor is focused on addressing critical issues confronting the city, while also helping to bring about necessary long-term change in Harrisburg.”
Kenney has spoken with confidantes about the potential of a 2022 run to replace Gov. Tom Wolf, who is in his second and final term. That news was met with skepticism from many in city politics who doubted he would pull the trigger on a statewide campaign.
Some have speculated that Kenney may be floating the potential of a run for higher office in order to maintain relevance in Philadelphia politics during his second term, which began in January. Previous mayors who were seen as lame ducks have struggled to wield influence with City Council.
The city’s Home Rule Charter would require Kenney to resign if he were to seek state office. Council President Darrell L. Clarke would then become mayor.
A gubernatorial run would likely pit Kenney against state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and possibly others in the Democratic primary. Kenney’s strategy would likely be to run the left of the more moderate Shapiro by capitalizing on his backing from organized labor and the growing progressive movement.
It’s unclear how the Kenney administration’s handling of recent crises could affect his chances at higher office.
Kenney was panned for encouraging Philadelphians to dine out as the coronavirus took root in Philadelphia, but quickly became an adamant supporter of strict measures shutting down businesses to control the spread of the virus.
And while Kenney has backed supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and endorsed police reforms, the Philadelphia Police Department has been criticized for a lack of preparation for the demonstrations that broke out after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer. Kenney also opposes decreasing the size of the city’s police force, a demand of many protesters.
His response to the protests in particular could be a major factor in the extent to which he is able to energize progressive voters, many of whom supported his first run for mayor in 2015 and applauded his first-term accomplishments, such as the creation of a tax on sugary beverages that funds pre-K, the community schools program, and improvements to parks and recreation centers.