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Meet ‘Mayor Jim Kenney,’ a 25-year-old woman

In social media, email and letters, Chamarra McCrorey is 'Mayor Jim Kenney.'

Chamarra McCrorey responds to emails and letters sent to the Mayor Jim Kenney's office.
Chamarra McCrorey responds to emails and letters sent to the Mayor Jim Kenney's office.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Sitting at a small desk across the hall from the mayor’s office, Chamarra McCrorey finds her inner Jim Kenney as she responds to dozens of emails, letters, and social media posts each day.

On Valentine’s Day, Kenney received two requests from residents asking him to officiate at their respective weddings. McCrorey wrote back using each of their first names: “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!... I’m honored by the invitation.” She provided the link for a scheduling request.

That day, McCrorey also responded to people asking for a National Nutrition Month proclamation and someone notifying the mayor about a broken streetlight, among dozens of other messages. She also managed complaints on social media about illegal dumping and litter.

McCrorey, 25, is the mayor’s correspondence coordinator, charged with handling Kenney’s two main email accounts, the handwritten letters that come in for him from all over the country and world, any constituent complaints through social media, and any formal letter that needs to be written by the mayor.

She is Mayor Jim Kenney to anyone who has ever written to the mayor and received a response.

After thousands of responses, writing as Kenney comes as second nature, McCrorey said. For instance, she didn’t hesitate to use the word knucklehead in emails she sent last year responding to visiting football fans who complained about Eagles fans’ poor behavior.

“When I’m writing, I am thinking, ‘OK, how would Mayor Jim Kenney say it?’” McCrorey said. “If he were speaking or saying this, how would this sound?”

Some people are shocked when they get a response from Kenney’s email.

“It’s so cool you answer your own e-mail!” said one emailer who sent a note to the mayor after meeting him at a conference. Another woman posted on Facebook that the mayor told her that one of the Ben Franklin impersonators she was complaining about was not affiliated with the city.

“People really believe it’s him,” McCrorey said, laughing, as she typed another response to someone asking to display their artwork in City Hall.

McCrorey grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Temple University with a degree in secondary education: English. She had plans to be a high school English teacher, but after college worked writing copy for a start-up’s website, then landed a job at the city Office of Inspector General in the spring of 2017. She started as correspondence coordinator in December 2017.

When she started, McCrorey immersed herself in Kenney’s own writing and speeches, and watched his news conferences. It took some time to learn which of the city’s more than 50 departments and agencies to contact for complaints.

“I’m always learning on the job,” she said.

The volume of communication is intense, especially on social media. Some people write so often that McCrorey immediately recognizes the names or handwriting.

“My constituents,” McCrorey said, smiling.

McCrorey has two monitors on her desk, one of which is constantly open to email. On the other, she switches between Tweetdeck and a massive spreadsheet tracking every piece of electronic and hand-delivered mail that comes in for the mayor, by topic. In 2018, the mayor received 11,366 letters. That’s about 950 pieces of mail each month.

The administration’s goal is to respond to 95 percent of constituent comments, questions, and concerns within two weeks. McCrorey says she takes an average of 36 hours to respond to all electronic mail. She tries to respond to social media messages — most of them general grievances about things like trash and potholes — the same day.

“Sometimes people don’t expect a response. They think it’s going to this abyss — but no, I’m over here with my spreadsheets keeping track and reaching out to people," she said.

McCrorey’s boss, Communications Director Deana Gamble, said Kenney (the real one) does not want his staff to bounce people from department to department but to resolve issues. Kenney reviews and signs most of the letters that go out in the mail, she said.

Because McCrorey is writing as the mayor, she fact-checks responses with various departments, including budget numbers and policy background. The most frequent issue: library funding.

New issues arise based on the news cycle. In July, it was the administration’s decision to end a data-sharing contract with immigration officials. Earlier this month, constituents voiced concerns about the selection of new voting machines.

While she tries to respond to all comments, McCrorey said she skips “racist” or “vulgar” ones. “You can’t engage with them,” she said.

Then there are the fun ones. Around Thanksgiving a mother emailed the mayor a scanned copy of the artwork her son did in school: a colorful turkey with a picture of Kenney pasted on as the bird’s face. McCrorey printed it and showed it to the mayor.

The turkey now hangs in the press office.

In December, a local songwriter sent the mayor his own smooth jazz Christmas song — no message, just a sound file. McCrorey didn’t share it with the mayor, but she and her colleagues played it at their holiday party.

McCrorey keeps a folder full of the “positive” mail the mayor gets, which she summarizes in a monthly email to staff. The negative mail, of which there can be a lot, will be shared with the mayor’s chief of staff and officials once there is a pattern of complaints.

Her favorite part of the job is helping someone in need, such as a woman who wrote about her struggle with addiction. As Kenney, McCrorey connected her with city services. The woman continues to send the mayor updates about her sobriety.

“I’m sitting behind a computer screen. How much am I actually doing? But then I see stuff like that. She reached out saying ‘I want to tell you I’m doing great. No more opiates,’” McCrorey said. “That was awesome.”

McCrorey was recently promoted and is transitioning to a role helping write mayoral speeches and talking points.

“I’ll still be Mayor Jim Kenney, but just in a different way,” she said.