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Kenney's planning starts today

Organizing your government can’t wait until November, says Michael Nutter, one who knows.

Jim Kenney’s experience on City Council could help him prepare to take over the Mayor’s Office. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Jim Kenney’s experience on City Council could help him prepare to take over the Mayor’s Office. (STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Read more

IN THE CLOSING scenes of 1972's "The Candidate," Bill McKay (Robert Redford), victorious Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, pulls his campaign guru out of a victory party and into a quiet hotel room, with the press banging at the door.

Leaning back against a desk, with a deeply somber expression, McKay asks, "Marvin, what do we do now?"

It's unlikely that scene was repeated last night at Vie after former City Councilman Jim Kenney crushed beat five rivals to ascend to Democratic candidate for mayor with a small percentage of the total of registered Democrats, most of whom didn't vote.

Even though he is the choice of a minority of Philadelphians, Kenney won more votes from those who sleepwalked to the polls, and that's what counts.

There are only two hurdles between him and Room 215 in City Hall - Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey in November and the last Stu Bykofsky Candidates Comedy Night in August.

Figuring neither will cause him to explode like the Death Star, Kenney is McKay - a winner.

Unlike McKay, who was an idealistic, liberal neophyte sweet-talked into a hopeless race against an incumbent Republican, Kenney is a career politician (a word that made McKay's face pucker) who stepped forward when lawyer Ken Trujillo announced a run and then backed out of the race for murky personal reasons.

Since Kenney is a politician, and an alumnus of City Council, I asked the last person in that mold, Michael Nutter: What does Kenney have to "do now"?

Despite what history teaches - Philadelphia hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1947 (Bernard Samuel) - "you can't act like you've already won and, like, you're ordering drinks," Nutter told me.

(Just to be polite, everything Nutter says applies to Republican candidate Bailey, too.)

Kenney can't waste the time between now and the November election because - should he win (heh, heh) - he will have a "couple of hundred" people to replace, including those to be axed.

"You have someone else indicate to certain people it's probably not likely the mayor-elect is going to ask you to stay," Nutter said. That's a matter of "dignity and respect," he said, done to "give people a decent amount of notice."

Starting after the primary, "You take the city government, take a work chart and start to put teams of people together, setting up, in effect, a mirror government," Nutter said.

"You want to have a public-safety group. They're looking at police, fire, prisons, emergency services. A human-services group, a general government-operations group, the Streets Department, the records commissioner, the revenue commissioner," he said.

That's what Kenney's team must do, starting today (assuming they haven't already begun).

As a city-government insider, Kenney enjoys an edge, according to Nutter.

"There is an advantage, at department levels, to having city experience because you did the day-to-day stuff. This is not 'The West Wing' here."

As a veteran City Haller, Kenney knows a lot of people, knows who's smart and effective and who's not. Some heads will roll.

"Every mayor since the Home Rule Charter, with the exception of one, has been a city-government person," Nutter said. The sole exception was (one-term) Mayor Bill Green, father of the former city councilman (and possible future mayoral candidate).

You want people who will implement your programs. "Who do you know," said Nutter, is important.

Since no one knows everyone, Kenney will consult (and probably already has) with his cadre of supporters, his campaign staff and his transition team.

Every special-interest pleader and power broker will badger him about their candidates and their needs.

At some point, it will dawn on him, "This is a big job," Nutter said, adding the city is like a $7.3 billion corporation with 27,000 employees.

It's a big job, with big opportunities, but also big problems and big headaches.

A few hours after my phone interview with Nutter, the mayor was on the scene in a debris-strewn field in Frankford overseeing the Amtrak disaster.

Keep the aspirin handy, Jim Kenney.