Mayor Jim Kenney is threatening to end the city’s storied Mummers Parade if organizers don’t make significant changes to address inappropriate behavior by participants after another blackface controversy at this year’s event.
Kenney sent letters Tuesday to the heads of the four Mummers divisions requesting that they meet with officials, Kenney spokesperson Lauren Cox said Thursday. Cox said Kenney wants Mummers leaders and administration officials to discuss “changes that the city is seeking from Mummers leadership in order to ensure a more orderly parade and mechanisms for accountability when participants violate Mummers’ rules around inappropriate content and bigoted actions.”
“The future of the parade is in jeopardy if Mummers leadership does not make immediate changes to better control the parade,” Kenney wrote in the letters.
He threatened to end the annual New Year’s Day parade, which is run by private Mummers organizations but is permitted by the city, if the Mummers do not better control their members, change the way they organize themselves, and improve their compliance with the permitting process.
“If you cannot commit to meaningful changes, the City will be forced to consider alternatives,” Kenney wrote. “Ultimately, the City may prefer to produce and control its own New Year’s Day parade or celebration that is more inclusive, which will displace the Mummers Parade on Broad Street.”
In an interview this week, Kenney described learning about this year’s incident, in which members of the Froggy Carr Wench Brigade painted their faces black for a performance based on the Flyers mascot Gritty.
“I was sitting at home, watching it on television, drinking a mimosa, thoroughly enjoying the event, and then I see it, and I go, ‘Oh my god, now my whole New Year’s Day, my whole beginning of 2020 just got effed up because I know what’s going to happen,” Kenney said. "I know that those two or three individuals, whatever it was, care more about their own racism and their own opinions than they care about the future of that tradition.”
Kenney, a former Mummer himself, said the leaders of the parade should work with him before running too far afoul of Council, which can vote to pull funding for the event.
“Part of being kind of strict with them and trying to explain to them the error of their ways is an effort to save them because there’s a majority on Council right now that wouldn’t care” if the parade were canceled, Kenney said.
On Thursday, City Councilmember Cindy Bass proposed creating penalties for participants in the New Year’s Day parade who paint their faces black. Bass introduced the bill at the first working meeting of Council’s new four-year term that would ban Mummers who wear blackface from the parade for five years and hit them with a $75 fine.
“Every Jan. 2, we’re having the same conversation about blackface in the Mummers Parade and the disrespect," Bass said. “It’s past time to do something different.”
Regulating blackface in the parade is a legally thorny issue due to the First Amendment’s free-speech protections. Bass said she is working with the city’s Law Department to craft a measure that would pass legal muster.