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Kenney uses social media to announce bid for second term as Philly mayor, and promptly gets dragged

Mayor Kenney announced his bid for reelection Sunday with a video posted to social media. His campaign said that tactic was not meant to avoid questions about the indictment of his political ally, John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, head of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Mayor Jim Kenney walks through City Hall after his press conference presenting a violence reduction action plan called "The Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities" at City Hall, Philadelphia, January 17, 2019.
Mayor Jim Kenney walks through City Hall after his press conference presenting a violence reduction action plan called "The Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities" at City Hall, Philadelphia, January 17, 2019.Read moreMargo Reed / Staff Photographer

Mayor Jim Kenney won’t be holding a campaign kickoff rally. He won’t be making promises from a stage to an adoring crowd. And he won’t be answering questions from the reporters who usually cover such events.

Instead, the mayor used a conspicuously low-key approach — a few social media posts — to announce he is running for reelection.

Kenney’s campaign posted a video on Sunday touting his first-term record on funding pre-K, taking back control of the Philadelphia School District from the state, and job creation. And that’s it.

It was a departure from how Kenney launched his first run for mayor in 2015, heavy on spectacle with a farewell appearance at City Council, where he served for 23 years, and then an announcement a week later in front of supporters in the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall.

The circumstances, of course, are different now. Kenney has had the incumbent’s pulpit for three years and will have it all year. He also has never left a doubt that he wanted a second term. Candidates and campaign consultants like the control a video announcement provides.

But there also is another notable change: Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has evolved from potent political ally to a problematic portrait of alleged corruption.

Its leader — and Kenney’s boyhood friend — John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty Jr. was indicted two weeks ago, accused with City Councilman Bobby Henon and six other Local 98 officials of looting the union to take care of Dougherty, his friends, and family.

The indictments cast a pall over Kenney’s bid for a second term, raising questions about the motivation for and political tactics used to pass that tax, a 1.5-cent-per-ounce levy on sweetened beverages to pay for expanded pre-K and other programs.

Marty O’Rouke, spokesperson for Kenney’s campaign, said the reelection video has been in the works for weeks and Kenney did not use it to avoid talking about the indictments.

Still, Kenney’s first effort at addressing the news became a problem of stage management. His staff instructed reporters to save their questions until the mayor held an unrelated City Hall news conference on the day the indictments were released, Jan. 20. That upset a group of women who had attended the event hoping to speak about themselves, not serve as silent spectators to breaking news.

Kenney’s image issues continued the next day when he attended an already scheduled campaign fundraiser being hosted by Local 98. Reporters could see Kenney mingling there with Local 98 political director Marita Crawford, one of the union officials indicted a day earlier.

Kenney and Crawford avoided reporters waiting outside, slipping out a back service entrance of the Center City steakhouse where the fundraiser was held, leaving the mayor’s security team parked out front.

The release of the reelection announcement wasn’t without its drawbacks. The comments for Kenney’s video on Twitter and on Facebook ran heavy with disdain for the mayor’s soda tax and “sanctuary city” policy, along with complaints about crime and the murder rate.

The clap-back was thunderous, the dragging relentless.

In his Twitter post and in his Facebook post, anti-Kenney comments far outnumbered his supporters.

Kenney’s campaign noted that he routinely gets attacked in the comments of any social media post.

Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who announced in November his Democratic primary challenge to Kenney, said the social media comments echo what he hears from voters all over the city.

Kenney won in 2015 in part due to support by an independent expenditure political action committee started and funded by Local 98. Butkovitz said Kenney is now “in a very uncomfortable” position, caught between still needing that support and upsetting progressive voters who want him to reject any taint of corruption.

“He’s dependent on Dougherty to be his fundraising and his muscle in City Council,” Butkovitz said. “He’s on the horns of that dilemma.”

State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, who finished second to Kenney in the 2015 primary and is now considering another run for mayor, declined to comment Monday on the video. Williams, like Butkovitz, is an ardent foe of the soda tax.

The mayor is still available for comment at public events. His staff issues a daily advisory of where he will appear.

Kenney‘s schedule for Monday showed no such events.