Jim Kenney is the clear choice for mayor of the city.
It’s not a surprising choice to endorse an incumbent. To do otherwise, we’d want evidence that the mayor is moving the city in the wrong direction or that an exciting challenger promises far more.
Neither of those is the case.
During Kenney’s first term, the city has continued an upward trajectory, seeing job and population growth, revitalized neighborhoods, improvements in educational outcomes, drops in crime, and rising home values.
This growth occurs against the backdrop of serious poverty, an opioid crisis, and increasing homicide rates that still plague the city.
Some of Kenney’s solutions to these problems are bold. His steadfastness in the face of fierce opposition for expanding pre-K with a tax on sugary beverages and supporting a supervised injection site — both of which this board support — is admirable. Kenney also showed backbone when replacing state governance of the schools with a local board. That’s a serious accomplishment, though the upside of the move will take time to emerge.
Opponents State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and former Controller Alan Butkovitz share opposition to the soda tax and supervised injection sites, and argue that Kenney is not up to the task. But they offer no big vision for grappling with the city’s problems.
In his 30 years in the General Assembly, Williams has often showed a willingness to work across the aisle. But his Harrisburg tenure makes his criticism of Kenney’s inability to get more state money for education ironic. So is his beef about the regressive nature of the soda tax, since one of his accomplishments was championing a cigarette tax hike for education funds in 2013, at the request of then-Mayor Michael Nutter.
Alan Butkovitz served three terms as city controller before losing reelection, often investigating gaping problems in city departments like the sheriff’s office. But the ability to lead, inspire, and make tough decisions takes more than math and auditing skills.
Kenney has his own baggage, the biggest of which is his close association with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 98 head John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, especially following the indictment of Dougherty and Councilman Bobby Henon; Kenney has continued to show support for both. Still, both Butkovitz and Williams have taken lots of money from Dougherty in the past, making their criticism of Kenney hypocritical.
Kenney’s response to homicide and crime is a road map released three years into his administration, focusing on a public health approach. We wish it had come sooner — and with more investment. But we believe he is savvy enough to understand the links between poverty, drugs, and violence, and steadfast enough to keep pushing for solutions, especially those based in education. He pledges to increase school spending by $700 million over the next five years.
Philadelphia is moving in the right direction — though given the magnitude of our problems, change often doesn’t come quickly or dramatically enough. Kenney’s challenge in his second term will be to increase the magnitude of impact that comes from his policies. Also, it wouldn’t kill him to look excited to be the mayor, even when he is not dressed like Buddy the Elf.