Sitting at Cafe La Maude in Northern Liberties, mayoral candidate and former City Councilman Jim Kenney pined for the days when hucksters roamed the streets of South Philadelphia, hawking everything from fresh produce to knife sharpening services and ladies' clothing.
Sipping on a Diet Coke, he's seated around a table Tuesday with three officers from the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association, who were nodding vigorously.
The PMFA had just endorsed Kenney for mayor, for what that's worth.
"When I was a kid, and now I'm going to date myself, we used to have a man with a cart and a horse that sold fruits and vegetables from a stand. That was in the 1960s," he said.
Despite the decline of traditional sidewalk salesmen and the modern resurgence of the PMFA's kind of street vendor — food trucks and carts, mostly of the gourmet, Korean taco-selling variety — Kenney believes city regulations are as outdated as the horse-and-cart variety.
The association said they're backing Kenney out of loyalty.
He and two members of City Council, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell, were early supporters of a bill, now being considered in Council, that would allow vendors to set up in parking lots and vacant land and create a new definition for "mobile food vendors."
The trucks are currently lumped in with street merchants, like Kenney's hucksters of yore, in city regulations, limiting the trucks' areas within which they can operate.
"He's been a staunch supporter since the beginning, when no one wanted to back us. This is a way of saying 'thank you,'" said PMFA vice president Rob Mitchell, who is also the owner of the Cow and the Curd food truck.
Kenney said the reforms for mobile food vendors he's supported are emblematic of what he wants to accomplish as mayor — making the city more business friendly and supporting "hip" urban amenities, like food trucks, that attract more residents and tourists to the city, creating jobs along the way.
"It's the essence of small business creation," he said. "With the right land deals and considerations, we could even have someone manufacturing these trucks in Philadelphia."
The candidate said he'd also like to introduce more far reaching bureaucratic reforms to make the city more business friendly, like streamlining city inspection and licensing processes for restaurants and retail outlets. He sketched out a plan for an "omnibus" licensing system, combining the multiple licenses from several departments that most business owners must pursue today in order to open up shop. His proposed system would blend the license-gathering into a single process.
The heads of the PMFA were beaming.
"Just sitting here, hearing that, I wish I lived in Philadelphia, honestly," said the Norristown-based President of the PMFA, George Bieber.
Kenney clearly wants to be seen as a pro-business candidate, volunteering that his side job at the engineering firm Vitetta, where he has worked throughout his tenure on Council as an ambiguously defined "business development director," makes him uniquely qualified to understand and address the concerns of the private sector.
"You have to be in the private sector to understand it," he said.
Fellow candidates Anthony Williams and Lynne Abraham are best known for their work in elected offices, but Williams previously worked at PepsiCo and Abraham is employed by a law firm. Another candidate, Nelson Diaz, has also spent time in both elected office and in private law practice.
But Kenney's interest in promoting the endorsement of a relatively small business lobby like the PMFA also seems calculated to attract more millennial voters and cast himself as the "urbanist" candidate for mayor, a font of wonky, municipal tweaks.
When asked if it's part of a larger campaign strategy to shore up his position as a "hip", food-truck-loving, marijuana-decriminalizing candidate for mayor to pick up youth votes, Kenney demurs.