Former councilman Jim Kenney said if elected mayor, he will address core areas crucial to ensuring Philadelphia’s growth and success: eradicating poverty, improving education and increasing the synergism among the cities various departments, the mayor’s office and city council.
Kenney is running against former district attorney Lynne Abraham, former mayoral aide and PGW executive Doug Oliver, former city judge Nelson Diaz, former state representative Milton Street and state Sen. Anthony Williams in the Democratic mayoral primary on May 19.
“I am running for mayor because I spent almost six full terms as a council member at–large, and was able to accomplish much in that position, and I know for sure as mayor, I can do a lot more to improve people’s lives and improve people’s situations and allow folks to meet their potential,” Kenney said during a meeting this week with the Tribune Editorial Board. “The issues facing us directly all relate to the one big issue, and that’s the level of poverty we are experiencing. At 26 percent, we have the highest level of poverty of any [big] city in the nation. Philadelphia is a great city with a lot of opportunities and good things happening, but that poverty needle needs to be ratcheted down.”
That, Kenney said, can only be done through education. He is proposing universal pre–K for all children aged 3 and 4, which will assist in having children read on grade level by the time they enter elementary and middle school. He also believes universal pre-K will also lead to fewer behavioral disruptions in class and to fewer drop-outs.
In terms of support for the beleaguered School District of Philadelphia, Kenney said “teachers aren’t the cause of the education problems,” and instead faulted state lawmakers and the regime of former governor Tom Corbett for failing to properly fund the public school system here.
“Harrisburg [lawmakers] has not lived up to their constitutional responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient education to every student in the commonwealth.
“They think somehow that education is a luxury and not a requirement, and I think it’s an absolute necessity,” Kenney added. “So until they get their act together, we have to provide whatever we can to keep our schools moving and going forward.”
Kenney said a way to increase school funding is to leverage the value of abated properties. Under his plan, developers and buyers would retain their 10-year tax abatement, but the value of the property itself would see an increase in value — resulting in higher real estate tax revenue.
But Kenney opposes Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed 9 percent hike on real estate taxes.
“There are things we can do with abated properties,” said Kenney, who recently released major policy paper on municipal governance and his overall plan as mayor. “We can keep the tax abatement, but the land the abated property sits on is totally undervalued, and if you are getting a 10–year tax abatement and you then pay more for the value of your land, I don’t think that is asking too much.
“We could raise $20–$25 million a year just by doing things like that, without raising people’s taxes,” he added. “I do believe we will have an opportunity to change the climate in schools.”
What may not change, Kenney said, is the existence of the School Reform Commission. While many candidates have called for the eradication of the commission, Kenney urged caution, noting the ramifications of dissolving the commission.
By law, the commission can only be extinguished if state lawmakers or the commission itself votes to dissolve it. Kenney argued if the SRC is abolished, that may give the state an out to abandon the public school system in Philadelphia.
“When it comes to the SRC, some people want it to go away, some people want to keep it and some people want it changed. But if it goes away entirely, it gives Harrisburg just another excuse to wipe their hands clean of us and say we are on our own,” Kenney said. “So having the SRC there, despite that it’s really not functioning well as far as providing additional services to our students, I’m concerned that if it goes way entirely, [the state] will just turn their back totally and just walk away. I think we should have some semblance of Harrisburg involvement in our school’s governance.”
Reforming and expanding the board itself to include more Philadelphians is an option.
Not an option, though, is working with former councilman and school reform commission member Bill Green, who made unflattering comments and statements regarding Kenney in recently published reports.
In particular, Greene said he approached Kenney in 2007 asking why why Kenney was supporting U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s run for mayor. Greene said Kenney’s response was his support of Brady was due to Brady’s stance on working families and protecting a “Certain way” of life that reflects status quo politics.
“Bill Greene does not like me, and I am sorry that he doesn’t,” Kenney said. “Perhaps he wants to be a candidate for mayor, or wishes that he had run; I can’t get inside people’s heads…but [what Greene said in published comments] are a complete fabrication. He is clearly supporting Anthony Williams.”
Kenney also clarified his association with disgraced former state senator Vincent Fumo, noting that the pair has no tangible relationship.
“I haven’t worked with Vince Fumo for 27 years and haven’t spoken to him in seven,” Kenney said. “He tried to get me to perjure myself in federal court and I refused, and that is the genesis of our disagreement. He is also a person who has really ran roughshod over the people that worked for him and put them all in harms’s way instead of taking his medicine like a man.”
“His relationship with me is non–existent,” Kenney added. “And as a 56–year–old man who has been in public office for six terms, when do I shed Vince Fumo’s mantle? How old do I have to be before I’m no longer someone’s boy? That, to me, is offensive that I somehow don’t have my own thought process or my own morals and beliefs.”
Kenney, though, didn’t shy away from his support of unions — nor the endorsement the city’s unions have given to him. One such controversial endorsement came from John “Doc” Dougherty, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
Kenney also picked up endorsements from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Fraternal Order of Police, Neighborhood Networks, the Working Families group and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Even though Kenney vowed to work with the unions to ensure the city’s economic growth, he said he won’t be manhandled by Dougherty or any other union rep.
“I have a lot of people’s support and I want everyone’s support,” Kenney said. “I can assure voters that if any of my opponents were offered Doc’s support, they’d take it. It’s like people are complaining about things they don’t have because they didn’t get it. I guess [complaints about Dougherty’s support] is just politics and campaigning.
“But John Dougherty does not run me, Vince Fumo does not run me and Bob Brady does not run me,” Kenney added. “But Bob Brady is a friend, and he’s supporting Anthony Williams. The issue for me is that when this is over — and I intend to be successful, as I don’t burn any bridges or make any enemies — I’m going to need Anthony Williams in the state Senate to help us do the things we need to do.”