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Philly Managing Director Brian Abernathy to resign following criticism of city response to protests

Abernathy has come under fire for the city’s handling of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protesters three weeks ago shut down the lobby of the Municipal Services Building where he works in a demonstration calling for his resignation.

Managing Director Brian Abernathy will resign following a brief tenure as the city's top bureaucrat that was marked by catastrophes
Managing Director Brian Abernathy will resign following a brief tenure as the city's top bureaucrat that was marked by catastrophesRead moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy, a key mayoral appointee who came under fire for the city’s response to the unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, will resign in coming weeks, according to an administration source with knowledge of the decision.

Abernathy, who oversees the city’s operational departments, will tell his staff Tuesday that he will step down in early September, said the source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the personnel move. Abernathy’s planned resignation was first reported by Billy Penn.

Reached late Monday night, Abernathy declined to comment.

Abernathy, 43, had held the position as Mayor Jim Kenney’s top aide since January 2019, but emerged as one of the administration’s most visible faces — and targets — since the coronavirus pandemic and the protests and calls for police reform that began in late May.

The city has been criticized both for being unprepared to deal with the size of the demonstrations on the first day of planned protests, and for heavy-handed tactics by police in subsequent days, including the tear-gassing of peaceful demonstrators.

Three weeks ago, protesters shut down the lobby of the Municipal Services Building, where he works, in a demonstration calling for his resignation.

“I was dumbfounded by how out of touch I truly was,” he testified at a City Council hearing about the protests. “And how I had underestimated the anger and rage and frustration of folks I’m hired to serve.”

» READ MORE: Philly Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, Mayor Jim Kenney apologize for teargassing of protesters on 676

Progressive activists Monday night applauded his planned resignation, noting he was one of the more moderate members of Kenney’s progressive inner circle.

“When communities in every neighborhood in this city called to defund the police, we were demanding an end to incremental reforms that increase the power and presence of racist policing in our neighborhoods, to defund policing in all its forms, and to invest, instead, in the services that truly keep us safe,” said Bryan Mercer, executive director of the Movement Alliance Project. “Abernathy’s resignation shows that the administration may be beginning to have an interest in real action to deal with police violence and advance public safety.”

Active in city politics for more than a decade, Abernathy, a Boston native, previously served as policy director to then-City Councilmember Frank DiCicco and led the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority under Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration.

» READ MORE: Brian Abernathy is one of the most powerful people in Philly. Coronavirus and protests put him in the spotlight.

Under Kenney, he served as first deputy managing director before taking the top job when his predecessor, Mike DiBerardinis, resigned in January 2019. His salary is $196,000 a year.

It was not clear who will succeed Abernathy. His deputy managing director is Tumar Alexander, who was a top aide in the Nutter administration and previously worked as a staffer in City Council.

» READ MORE: Black and Blue: Explore 190 years of police brutality in Philadelphia