Kenney to resign, eyes run for mayor
Regardless of what he claims, Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney launched his campaign for mayor Tuesday. He did so by inviting reporters to his City Hall office to announce that he planned to resign from Council on Thursday, after 23 years as an at-large member. There was never any doubt about the session's true import, however.
Regardless of what he claims, Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenney launched his campaign for mayor Tuesday.
He did so by inviting reporters to his City Hall office to announce that he planned to resign from Council on Thursday, after 23 years as an at-large member. There was never any doubt about the session's true import, however.
"Clearly a resignation is a big step," he said, "and it shows I have the intention to follow through and move forward on what people have been speculating about."
That would be running for mayor.
"It is something I've thought about for a long time," he said, without mentioning an office. "I don't want to be retired, sitting on my porch and saying, 'I should have tried it.' "
He added that he found his decision "liberating."
Anxious not to violate a city rule that would require his immediate resignation if he used the word, Kenney refused to declare himself a "candidate." ("I know they are stupid rules, but they are rules and we have to follow them.")
But that did not stop him from talking about the mechanics of a campaign, issues he would run on, and how he would conduct himself if elected mayor. He dismissed the notion that as an Irish American from South Philadelphia, he could not win enough African American, Asian, and Latino votes to be mayor in a city where whites are in the minority.
"I reject the racial mathematics of elections," he said.
Kenney said a formal announcement of his plans would be made early next week. In the meantime, he was preparing a farewell speech for his Council colleagues.
When he does finally declare himself a candidate for the Democratic mayoral nomination, he will join a field that currently includes State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, and former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz.
Doug Oliver, former spokesman for Mayor Nutter, is set to formally announce his candidacy Feb. 7. Former State Sen. T. Milton Street Sr. has said he will join the race in February.
Kenney has been eyeing the race for years. His chief hesitation has been financial - with a daughter in college, he worried about making ends meet if he resigned to run without another source of income.
His calculations changed last week when Ken Trujillo pulled out of the race. There was suddenly a vacuum for a candidate with a progressive record. Kenney found himself heavily wooed by key labor leaders and others. And with the primary just four months away, he concluded that his financial plight was manageable, he said.
"With this being so compressed, I am going to be able to do this without another job," said Kenney, who has worked part time for 13 years with Vitetta, an architectural and engineering firm with offices in Eddystone, Delaware County, and Harrisburg. Council members are permitted outside employment.
As for the campaign, Kenney said he would need to immediately dive into fund-raising. His current campaign fund has about $70,000, he said, while he estimated he will need between $1.5 million and $2 million to run a credible campaign.
Kenney indicated he would run as he has legislated, as an outspoken ally of liberal causes, including immigration and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
In Council, he pushed the Nutter administration to stop cooperating with immigration officials on deportations, and in 2013 Council passed his bill extending sweeping rights to "life partners" in the city code. Last year, he sponsored legislation to reduce the penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana, an offense that disproportionately traps African Americans in the legal system.
"I take pride for standing up for people who need standing up for, even when it isn't in my best interests," he told reporters who packed his office Tuesday.
While he has not always seen eye to eye with Nutter, Kenney praised the mayor for his efforts to bring integrity to government.
"The Nutter administration has done some really good stuff on ethics and transparency," he said, specifically giving his support to keeping the posts of inspector general and chief integrity officer. "We are not going backward on that."
Kenney's dance of the seven veils went on for about 45 minutes before an aide called for the curtain. As the crowd filed out, it was hard not to notice the lavender poster of Andy Warhol hung high on the office wall.
"The idea of waiting for something," read the artist's quote, "makes it more exciting."
So it does.