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Kenney declared winner as Philadelphia's next mayor

On the brink of political extinction just four years ago, former City Councilman Jim Kenney now is set to be sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia on Jan. 4.

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney gets a kiss as he celebrates his victory with supporters at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015.
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney gets a kiss as he celebrates his victory with supporters at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

On the brink of political extinction just four years ago, former City Councilman Jim Kenney now is set to be sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia on Jan. 4.

Kenney, 57, who came within 1,754 votes of losing his 2011 bid for a sixth Council term, easily defeated Republican nominee Melissa Murray Bailey in Tuesday's general election.

With about 98 percent of the vote counted, Kenney was leading by a 6-1 ratio - the largest victory spread in modern Philadelphia history.

Kenney told supporters at his victory party that the city will benefit "if we all learn to see the world through one another's eyes."

He pointed to the coalition that led to his victory, which he called "a big reach" when he entered the race in January.

"Behind this campaign, we had environmentalists, feminists, teachers, working families, first responders, unions, public school parents, clergy, the LGBT community, immigrants, and so many more," Kenney said. "Together, these groups did far more than just elect a new mayor - they proved that every neighborhood matters."

As he did when he entered the race, Kenney spoke about growing up in a multicultural neighborhood.

"But despite their differences," he said of his neighbors, "they all worked together to create a better place for their families to live - whether that meant watching after one another's kids or making sure that the elderly neighbors' pavements got shoveled when it snowed."

Kenney now turns to building the administration to keep his campaign promises.

They include a $60 million plan to guarantee "universal pre-K" education for all 4-year-olds in the city, an expansion of the Port of Philadelphia to create blue-collar jobs, and ending the Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" approach to searching for illegal handguns and other weapons.

On Wednesday, Kenney will officially launch a transition that has been months in the making.

"We've been conducting this in a very sensitive way as it relates to the campaign and the election, not taking anything for granted, looking bigheaded, but you can't do this in two months," Kenney said earlier Tuesday, popping a cough drop after a live interview on MSNBC.

His administration, he said, will include a strong managing director and small cabinet of four or five advisers, a shift away from Mayor Nutter's use of deputy mayors.

Kenney predicts that staff announcements are likely before Thanksgiving.

The mayor-elect declined to disclose names, but Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross is almost certain to replace Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who is stepping down in January.

Kenney campaigned this year as a man remade - a formerly irascible presence on social media and City Council who became calmly disciplined, sticking to his script on the stump, holding his tongue even when challenged.

The primary driver for Kenney's pre-campaign anger, the inability to see a path from Council to the mayor's office, fell away as the field of primary candidates cleared and a route appeared.

Kenney prevailed in a five-candidate Democratic primary election in May with 56 percent of the vote.

So-called "independent expenditure groups" - funded by the local and national teachers' unions, and building trades unions in Philadelphia and New Jersey - spent more than $4 million to boost Kenney's chances.

On the trail, Kenney pitched himself to his hometown in ways that reflected the best of Philadelphia's last three mayors:

He has Ed Rendell's enthusiasm for the city as a destination and a home, having started while on Council an annual program to have members of the General Assembly visit Philadelphia to try to ease long-held political tensions.

He has John F. Street's sense of the neighborhoods, pledging to look beyond Center City's success to boost employment and education while addressing poverty and the needs of residents returning from incarceration.

And he has Nutter's understanding of the need for the people who operate the city's government to both be and be seen as ethical players.

He also uses Nutter as a cautionary tale of what happens when a mayor has a dysfunctional relationship with Council. In this, he harks back to the working partnership forged when Rendell was mayor and Street was Council's president.

David L. Cohen, the Comcast Corp. executive vice president who served as Rendell's chief of staff in City Hall, said he expected Kenney to be an "amalgamation of a lot of mayors" as he runs the city.

"I think he will try to build a coalition government in which he is truly the mayor of everyone in the city," Cohen said.

Former Mayor William J. Green III, who has not always seen eye to eye with Kenney or his political circle, calls him bright and experienced. Green, as mayor, clashed with then-State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, the political mentor who gave Kenney his start.

That relationship foundered and fractured as Fumo went to federal prison, convicted on corruption charges.

"The question is: Is Jim going to absolutely play it in the interests of the citizens of this city, or is he going to compromise along the way, do favors for friends and that kind of stuff?" Green said. "If he goes one way, in my opinion, he has the chance to be a great mayor. If he goes the other way, it will be a disaster for the city."

Kenney approached the general election with the political version of the NFL's "prevent defense," cautiously appearing at forums and debates with Bailey, a 36-year-old political novice who was a Democrat until January. Bailey, in response, offered little by way of offense against a man with a 23-year record in public office.

Kenney had numbers on his side, both in voters and in campaign contributions. Seventy-eight percent of the city's voters are Democrats, 11 percent are Republicans, and 11 percent are independents or members of small political parties.

One of the three independent expenditure groups that supported Kenney in the primary was backed by John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Dougherty and Kenney, who grew up together in South Philadelphia's Whitman neighborhood, spent years feuding in a political rivalry that eased when Fumo went to prison.

Kenney, on the campaign trail Tuesday, spoke again about the need to improve public education and address poverty in the city.

He joked about his ties to unions, asking people at Moore School in Northeast Philadelphia if the teachers in the crowd looked frightening.

"I am proud to have teacher support, and I know what these folks do in the classroom every single day," Kenney said.

Kenney pondered being the city's 99th mayor after voting at his polling place at Fourth and Race Streets.

"It's very symbolic that I will be representing the 99 percent, not the 1 percent," he said.

Kenney's campaign raised $2.6 million this year to compete in the primary and the general election.

Bailey raised $23,596 for her campaign and lent herself $4,000.

Three other candidates - independents Jim Foster and Boris Kindij, and Osborne Hart of the Socialist Workers Party - had little impact and practically no resources during the campaign.

Kenney is separated from his wife and has a son and a daughter.

He is an emotional man, as quick to tears as anger when the moment calls for them. As one did Tuesday.

"A committeeman in the 50th Ward grabbed me by both hands and said, 'We have every faith in you. My wife and I pray for you every day,' " Kenney said. With that, the tears flowed.



Inquirer staff writers Claudia Vargas and Kristen A. Graham contributed to this article.









98 percent of precincts reportingEndText


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