After invite, Kenney abruptly turns away media
It took the click of a shutter for Mayor Kenney to turn sour. After a handful of reporters were invited to share a tour of Philadelphia's prisons Monday, Kenney quickly showed that he wasn't in the mood for guests. In the visitors lobby, he raised his hand to stop a photographer in mid-shot, then headed out of the room with a swift shake of his head.
It took the click of a shutter for Mayor Kenney to turn sour.
After a handful of reporters were invited to share a tour of Philadelphia's prisons Monday, Kenney quickly showed that he wasn't in the mood for guests. In the visitors lobby, he raised his hand to stop a photographer in mid-shot, then headed out of the room with a swift shake of his head.
Twenty minutes, and a few more touchy interactions between the media and the mayor, later, everyone got the hint.
"Does he want the media here?" one staffer on the tour whispered.
"No," another said back.
Kenney gave a brief interview (1 minute and 54 seconds), and the day, for the news media, ended.
Kenney has been known to have an uneven temperament - at times standoffish, at times sociable. But his pique Monday was a rare example since he made the decision to run for mayor.
His visit to the State Road prison complex was planned as his administration tries to reduce the inmate population by a third in three years, with the backing of a $3.5 million MacArthur Foundation grant.
The event was not on Kenney's public calendar. His spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said a few members of the media were invited so the public could get a better understanding of why changes are needed.
Hitt said Kenney did not have a change of heart, that it wasn't his call to invite the media.
"I made the decision that it was OK for media to be there," Hitt said. "He was informed. And I think he just was uncomfortable about it the whole time, but was told he would have to be OK with it."
Hitt said Kenney was concerned about inmates' privacy from the start and "became increasingly concerned over the course of the visit that their privacy was being invaded."
At the point when Kenney first told a photographer to stop taking pictures, the tour was still in the waiting room. The second time he told a photographer to not take his picture, the group was not yet near the cell blocks.
"I don't want this to be about me," Kenney told a photographer. "I'm just here doing my job."
In his brief comments to reporters, standing beside newly appointed Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney, Kenney reiterated his plans to eventually close the House of Correction, the most decrepit building on the campus.
"We need to empty it out," Kenney said. "Not replace it."
With that, he got in an SUV and headed to the Detention Center, the second stop on his tour.