A day after City Council President Darrell L. Clarke called a 3-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks "ridiculous" and said it would not pass, Mayor Kenney on Thursday struck a conciliatory tone over how to fund his plan for universal prekindergarten.
"Give them the time they need to work through their process," Kenney said of Council. "It's a process with integrity. They're all good people. They're my friends."
The mayor even signaled flexibility on the rate, saying he was "open-minded" to 21/2 cents, given that it would raise about the same as the higher levy.
He did not say how low a rate he would accept to lock down Council support.
With two weeks until Council is expected to decide on the tax, frustrations that have seemed to bubble behind the scenes came to the forefront at a Council hearing Wednesday as Clarke pressed members of Kenney's administration to abandon the 3-cent plan and give a beverage-container tax a closer look.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown last week introduced that alternative, which would add 15 cents to the cost of many beverages that come in a bottle or can, including soda, teas, and water. Kenney's administration has said the tax would not reap enough revenue and would be harder for consumers who can't afford it to avoid.
According to City Hall sources, Kenney and Clarke met privately after Wednesday's tense hearing. On Thursday, Clarke signaled there were no hard feelings between the two.
He said his stern remarks were directed at Kenney's staff testifying in opposition to the container tax - not the mayor.
"The mayor and I have been talking throughout this process, personally," he said. "And I've said it is my belief we will get to a solution."
Kenney did not seem concerned about his support on Council, saying if a vote were held today he would have the nine votes needed to pass some kind of sugary-drinks tax. He did not say at what rate.
"We're all totally 100 percent on the same page of the initiatives we are looking to fund. I think we are three-quarters of the way there," Kenney said.
He stressed a willingness to work with Council, while repeating his administration's concerns about a container tax.
"I'm open to whatever we can do to maximize our ability to reach as many kids as possible," he said.
Also Thursday, Reynolds Brown introduced a tax credit for small businesses that would increase the amount of healthy beverages they stock. She said she was looking to mitigate the impact any tax would have on corner stores while also encouraging the sale of more healthy beverages, defined as a nonalcoholic drink with no sugar-based sweeteners.
"There's a huge interest in our duty, rightfully so, to figure out how we can protect the small-business enterprises, the corner stores and the bodegas," Reynolds Brown said.
Her office drew up the legislation late Wednesday, after Council members raised concerns about some neighborhoods not having alternatives to soda, which would be taxed under both proposals.
Reynolds Brown's office has not proposed how much the credit would be, saying that would be settled soon. To be eligible, a business would have to show a baseline for how many healthy drinks it stocks, then show the increase over time. The credit would be received as a percentage of the healthy drinks stocked.
It would be available to any retail food establishment of less than 5,000 square feet.