With Philadelphia's May 19 mayoral primary less than five months away and five candidates already announced, one of the names still floating around is City Councilman James Kenney's.
He's a political veteran who has been itching to run. This week, The Inquirer asked him about his plans.
Kenney, 56, who began his political career as an aide to then-State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo in the 1970s, is frustrated by the City Charter's rule that he must quit his current job before seeking another elected office.
Absent that rule, he would already have announced a run for mayor, Kenney said during a 50-minute interview. He is paying for his daughter's college tuition and has other bills that require a steady income.
If he doesn't run for mayor, he said, he will seek a seventh term on Council.
Kenney had a busy 2014. He sponsored bills to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and expand the definition of hate crimes to any crime committed against a person because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Both were signed into law by Mayor Nutter. Kenney was also a member of the Council that killed the sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works by not holding a hearing on the proposed deal.
A Democrat, Kenney made news Dec. 14 with his tweets about a Republican, New Jersey Gov. Christie, "sitting on his very fat ass next to Jerry Jones in his box at the Linc" during a nationally televised Eagles-Cowboys game.
Question: You had a big year legislatively. You had the marijuana decriminalization bill and the LGBT hate-crime bill. Which one are you prouder of?
Answer: Marijuana decriminalization, along with LGBT benefit expansion, simply because of the number of people who no longer get arrested. We had, in October, 285, I think, and we are down to 72. . . . It's not the marijuana issue that's important. It's the criminal-record issue that's important. If you want people having an actual shot at improving their lives, an arrest record is a piano on their back.
Q: From your perspective, what actually happened with PGW? What was the issue there?
A: It was a combination of the secrecy in which the administration conducted their deliberations. I think it has to do, sad to say, with the long-term lack of communication and cooperation between the administration and City Council. We probably should've had a hearing, but that was the Council president's decision.
Q: You supported having a hearing but you weren't going to be the one to introduce it.
A: Simply putting a piece of legislation on your own, and knowing it's not going to get scheduled, to me is not conducive to seeing it happen.
Q: The way the Council president [Darrell L. Clarke] handled the whole situation with the proposed sale of PGW, do you think, if he decides to run for mayor, will it make him a stronger or weaker candidate?
A: I don't think it matters. The business community, some members of labor, were upset that it didn't move forward. I think the average ratepayer, mistakenly or rightfully so, felt relieved that they weren't going to have to deal with a new private entity. ... I think that status quo is always easier to take than something different.
Q: Do you think he will run?
A: I think it is unlikely at this point.
Q: Your name has also been mentioned as a potential candidate. Are you going to run?
A: The factors in my deliberation are: How do you pay your bills and pay your tuition and not go broke? I'm 56. I'm not in the mood to obliterate my bank account on the chance that I may win in a demographically complicated race at this point.
Q: If income wasn't an issue -?
A: For me to run and quit, lose your income, have to find a job, and that's kind of a joke, because you find a job where someone is going to pay you to run for office. . . . Where is the public benefit? ... I do feel that a person with my history can reach across racial lines and progressive lines and other types of things that a traditional South Philly white Irish Catholic candidate probably 30 or 40 years ago couldn't. I've represented the city at large, so I've represented every neighborhood. I've been sensitive and understanding and open-minded to almost every walk of life in Philly.
Q: If you don't run for mayor, will you seek reelection?
A: Yes, definitely. I'm running for something. I'm running for one more term. . . . I want to return either as mayor or Council member again.
Q: You got your political start with Vince Fumo. What did you learn from that experience good and bad?
A: Good is that he was smart, and he had very smart people around him . . . in Harrisburg, appropriations staff, they are a bright group of people and he fostered their abilities to blossom and he wasn't afraid to have smart people around him. [Bad is] just don't lose sight that you are a public official and everything you do is scrutinized.
Q: What do you think should be the biggest issue this forthcoming election?
A: Education and eroding the poverty rate. Although we always go after these high-tech, bio-tech industries . . . there's really no effort that I see in blue-collar, livable-wage working conditions for people who do not have a college education.
Q: Based on your experience with three different administrations, what should the incoming mayor know?
A: The incoming mayor should know everyone's political history, their friends and their foes, their strengths and their weaknesses. How you deal with people matters. My old mentor and friend Sonny Hill told me, "Life is about relationships," and relationships are what make things happen or not happen.
Q: Any regrets on some of the stuff that you said on Twitter, especially the Chris Christie comments?
A: The word 'fat ass' is certainly not pleasant. But I come from South Philly. . . . No, I don't have any regrets. I got no negative pushback from anyone in this region. I was at a charity fund-raiser and three people came up to me and thanked me for saying what I said. . . . Twitter is not the National Press Club. It's 140 characters of stupidness. Why anyone gets all torqued up about Twitter, I don't get.