Philadelphia Magazine just spent a week comparing Mayor Jim Kenney to President Donald Trump, thanks to a policy the city implemented last week to restrict the publication’s access to information.
Now the magazine is threatening to sue unless Kenney abandons that “retaliatory, burdensome, and unconstitutional” policy. And it set a deadline: end of business Tuesday.
City Solicitor Marcel Pratt responded with his own letter Friday, claiming the Mayor’s Office treats Philadelphia Magazine the same as other media outlets in the city and “does not maintain any special policy” toward requests for information from the publication.
That stands in stark contrast to an email exchange the magazine reported on last week, in which Jim Engler, Kenney’s chief of staff, explicitly established and explained the policy toward the publication.
Pratt, in an email to The Inquirer after his letter was sent, said the policy Engler described in his email to Philadelphia Magazine was not “formally adopted by the Mayor’s Office” and was instead “a proposed concept.”
Pratt, in his letter, also proposed a meeting between Engler and Philadelphia Magazine Editor-in-Chief Tom McGrath “to discuss ways to improve communication.”
Kenney, a Democrat and frequent critic of the Republican president, apparently was peeved about a story the magazine published two weeks ago, which explored what it called the “DROP triple dip.” That involves city employees’ cashing out through the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan and then returning to work for the city as contractors.
Kenney’s communications team told the magazine last week that all requests for information from the administration now must be placed by McGrath directly with Engler.
The magazine, in a story about the new policy that labeled it a “Trumpian response,” quoted Engler as saying it could slow responses to the magazine’s requests.
“Considering the time and effort spent responding to recent Philadelphia Magazine stories, and the treatment that time and effort was given in those stories, we find it necessary to institute a new procedure for responding to requests from your organization,” the magazine quoted from an email from Engler. “We will make best efforts to respond in a timely manner, but please understand we field a high number of press requests every day.”
McGrath, in a story posted on the magazine’s website Friday about the threat to sue, again compared Kenney’s policy to Trump’s sustained criticism of media coverage. He knocked Kenney’s policy as “utterly arbitrary” and noted that other media outlets in the city are not impacted by it.
“The Kenney team’s actions should be unsettling to any citizen of Philadelphia … and America,” McGrath wrote. “The administration doesn’t have to like everything we write about them, but that doesn’t mean they, as a government entity, are free to apply different rules to us than they apply to any other news organization. To do so literally undermines the protections spelled out in the First Amendment.”
Jeffrey Pyle, the lawyer who wrote to Kenney for the magazine, cited a quote from Benjamin Franklin, who said republics “derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the actions of the magistrates.”
Pyle concluded by warning that Philadelphia Magazine “stands ready to seek redress in any appropriate forum for your administration’s violation of its First Amendment rights.”