IN LESS THAN FIVE MONTHS, Jim Kenney went from nobody's short list to the brink of becoming Philadelphia's 99th mayor, and he did it with a coalition this city has never quite seen before: from union guys from the old neighborhood in South Philly to high-tech millennials, from black ward leaders in the Northwest to gay activists and fired-up schoolteachers.
But seven months from now, winning yesterday's 2015 Democratic primary may be fondly remembered as "the easy part."
The coronation of the 56-year-old veteran City Council member isn't a done deal - there's a little-known GOP challenger and the possibility of an independent on the November ballot. But Kenney's stunning conquest of Philadelphia's dominant Democratic machinery was so swift that even his backers confess there's been little time to ponder what now becomes the city's hottest question:
WWMKD . . . What would a Mayor Kenney do?
"Most people are just getting used to the idea that he's going to win," confessed Kati Sipp, the executive director of Working Families Pennsylvania, one of a number of progressive groups that endorsed Kenney on his unexpected odyssey from South Philly rowhouse Fumocrat to local liberal icon.
Kenney appeared before a roaring crowd at a Broad Street restaurant shortly after 10 p.m. to proclaim his landslide victory with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He credited early supporters such as LGBT activists, first responders and teachers.
He said he was eager, if elected in November, to take on the challenges of his "great city," including underfunded schools, poverty and a "strained relationship with our community and the police." He said he would work to end "stop and frisk" and create a real, living wage, but he couldn't do it alone.
"Together, I know we can achieve in greater things, so let's get to work," Kenney said.
But already, local pundits wonder how the primary winner will handle the crosscurrents of a coalition that may be a little too broad for its own good - with environmentalists voting for an enthusiastic backer of a fossil-fuel energy hub, uniting good-government activists with the controversial insider and hardball player John Dougherty, whose electricians union paid for countless pro-Kenney TV spots.
Kenney promised enhanced civil liberties even as he gained the endorsement of the pro-status-quo police, and he won the backing of key municipal unions who'll now be across the table on new contracts and possible pension givebacks.
Insiders caution against expecting a dramatic "First 100 Days" of a Kenney administration. That's partly because neither Kenney nor the city's electorate seems especially displeased with the city's general direction under Mayor Nutter, who posted a fairly high approval rating of 59 percent in a recent independent poll.
It's also because some of the most ambitious ideas that Kenney has endorsed over the course of his campaign - a $60 million universal prekindergarten program for the city's 3- and 4-year-olds, or eventually following the lead of Seattle and Los Angeles and raising the minimum wage to $15 - require action in Harrisburg or in Council that could take months or even years of lobbying . . . if they're doable at all.
As for patronage, the primary campaign shed little light other than on the key job of police commissioner, amid speculation that the popular 65-year-old incumbent Charles Ramsey night not want to stay on through the next mayor. During his tenure on Council, friends said, Kenney forged close working ties with 1st Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, whom many have touted as Ramsey's heir apparent.
For other jobs at City Hall, associates say Kenney made connections with many of the city's upcoming best-and-brightest politicos during his many years teaching students at the Fels School of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, and that could be a breeding ground for key hires.
"He knows how to delegate," said John Hawkins, a former Kenney aide who is now a top lobbyist, adding that his ex-boss would not micromanage affairs as some of his recent predecessors in City Hall have done. Hawkins also said that Kenney supports a strong managing director, although it's not clear yet who's in the running for that post.
Political observers also expect some job picks will be linked to key Kenney endorsers, like Northwest political powerhouses Marian Tasco and Rep. Dwight Evans, or to Dougherty, whose union's PAC put out at least $450,000 to aid Kenney.
To say that the fiery Dougherty's support for Kenney has been controversial would be an understatement; the Inquirer even cited that as its primary reason for endorsing his rival, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. But several Democratic insiders said the issue has been overhyped, that the electricians' boss doesn't have a strong City Hall agenda and that his ties to Kenney - with whom he feuded earlier in his career - may prove ephemeral.
"I predict they'll have a major falling out," said one party activist who knows both well.
Evans, in an interview this week, said Kenney's reassurances that Dougherty won't have undue access to City Hall were critical in winning his support, along with Tasco and other key black political leaders.
"He said he understood and recognizes that you have to include everybody," said Evans, himself a candidate in 1999 and 2007.
Indeed, a late endorsement from City Council President Darrell Clarke may prove the most critical. That's because arguably the biggest change for Kenney, at least in style, may be his ability to cooperate and get key bills through the council, a job that has often eluded Nutter.
"I think he will do more shuttle diplomacy," predicted Evans, citing Kenney's 23 years on council and his success in navigating complicated legislation - such as the recent decriminalization of marijuana - through the body.
Kenney's supporters say his years of policy wonkery - including hosting conferences for state lawmakers and attending many others - may aid in another place he'll need help: Harrisburg.
One key lawmaker in the GOP-controlled body - Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman of Centre County - said yesterday that he's become a close personal friend with Kenney since meeting him at a Chamber of Commerce confab a decade ago, and he has high hopes for a working relationship with a new administration.
"I think he understands the needs of the state," said Corman, which he called critical to winning support for the city's program.
Kenney may have to go to Harrisburg a lot to enact the progressive agenda that he promised voters this spring. Current state law would bar any increases in the city's minimum wage, for example, and a Kenney administration would also need Harrisburg's help to bring in $105 million in new school funding and to make changes in the makeup of the unpopular School Reform Commission, if not abolish it and resume local control of schools.
Larry Ceisler, the city-based political media strategist, said education - which ranked as the No. 1 issue among voters this time around - is the issue where Kenney would probably most likely seek to make an impact, but only if the city wrests greater control of public schools from the state.
"Education then becomes his issue - that becomes his metric," he said.
If not, the hot-button area where Kenney would likely make the greatest impact could be policing - both in dealing with the transition at commissioner and in carrying out his promise to end stop-and-frisk searches, which he and other critics believe disproportionately target young minorities.
Sipp, whose Pennsylvania Working Families endorsed Kenney, said the candidate made the biggest impression at its candidate forum on stop-and-frisk, noting that even three nonwhite mayoral candidates had been searched by cops, but you never see frisking in the parking lot outside an Eagles game.
That said, with policing now a national issue after protests of shootings by police in Ferguson and elsewhere, some wonder whether Kenney can make additional reforms - like reforms to the arbitration process that often puts cops accused of corruption back on the job - without crossing the Fraternal Order of Police, which gave Kenney a key endorsement.
Philadelphia FOP president John McNesby said at last night's victory party that he believed the Police Department's interaction with Kenney, if elected mayor, would be similar to how it was with Nutter.
"There will be a few dust-ups, I'm sure," he said.
Ceisler speculated that some of Kenney's early time in office will be devoted to what he called the "unsexy" issues of pension reform and negotiating worker contracts.
In the end, Kenney might get less national attention for his substance than for his largely unfiltered style - especially on the nights he stays logged into Twitter. There's no guarantee that he'll rip into "fat-assed" Cowboys fan Gov. Chris Christie again this season, but it's a lock that he'll be "tearballing" again when "It's a Wonderful Life" airs during his first Christmas as mayor.
- Staff writer Jason Nark
contributed to this report.