SPARKS FLEW during the Next Mayor project's mayoral debate last night, with several candidates taking aim at the perceived front-runner, former City Councilman Jim Kenney.
For what has been a largely tepid race thus far, the debate at Temple University had its share of quirks, including an oddly warm rapport between Kenney and candidate Doug Oliver, details of the candidates' "guilty pleasures" and some tense exchanges between co-moderator Dave Davies and candidate Milton Street over Street's criminal history. Street was convicted in 2008 on three counts of tax evasion and sentenced to 30 months in prison.
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams drew connections between Kenney's opposition while on Council to the Office of the Inspector General, City Hall's internal government watchdog. Williams suggested that Kenney's reluctance to support the office was related to his simultaneous roles on the board of Independence Blue Cross and as a consultant to development firm Vitetta.
Williams called the former councilman's work with those organizations a conflict of interest and said that Kenney didn't want his work with either group examined.
Williams specifically attacked Kenney for leaving City Council out of the I.G.'s purview in a bill that made the office permanent. Shortly after the debate, Kenney's campaign sent out an email noting that he had been asked by the Nutter administration in 2013 to leave Council out in order to ensure that the bill passed.
Kenney said that his work with both companies had been vetted by city lawyers, and that Vitetta hasn't had a contract with the city in 25 years.
"You can make the connection, but connections are false," Kenney said.
Earlier, candidate Nelson Diaz also had questioned Kenney's accepting the endorsement of Latinos United for Political Empowerment, a group of politicians that had endorsed Manny Morales, a political challenger to Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez who has been pilloried for alleged racist posts on social media.
Kenney shot back that Diaz, a former Common Pleas judge, was just upset that he had lost the Latino group's support.
Finally, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham took Kenney to task for taking millions of dollars in what she called "dark money," sometimes-untraceable donations from special-interest groups - in Kenney's case, the teachers union and the city's building trades.
"Tell us you're not going to take this money and you're going to reject it because it has the appearance of trying to buy the mayor's office," Abraham said.
Kenney said the money was not secretive because it had been "reported on constantly."