City Councilman James Kenney announced Thursday he intends to run for mayor and will resign from Council to do so.
Kenney has been a councilman for 23 years. City law prohibits holding more than one municipal position at a time and requires Kenney to step down in order to run.
He joins a growing field of declared candidates, all Democrats, including state Sen. Anthony Williams, former district attorney Lynne Abraham and former judge Nelson Diaz.
Kenney’s fellow council members applauded his decision to run after he made his announcement during a council meeting Thursday.
“Jim Kenney and I started together in Council in 1992,” Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said. “And over the years, we have grown together. Jim has done so much for immigration, so much for Africans and Liberians, and done so much for people in need … he is skilled in politics, knows the difference between at–large and district council people, and I will miss having him sit next to me.”
Council President Darrell Clarke applauded Kenney as a “a good public servant who unapologetically wears his heart on his sleeve,” and said he was proud to call Kenney a colleague and friend.
“After almost a quarter century of service on City Council, Jim leaves quite a mark,” Clarke said. “The theme of his life’s work — equality for all, especially for those too often ignored by society — can be found in law enforcement, immigration and LGBT policies that are on Philadelphia’s books today.
“Councilman Kenney’s legislative and policy achievements are characterized by his love for all people, including those with whom he disagrees,” Clarke added. “In the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, that’s pretty fitting. I will miss working with Jim, and I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
A clearly moved Kenney began to speak from the clerk’s podium directly in front of and below the chair used by the sitting council president, and finally, after some prodding from now–former colleagues, Kenney ascended the president’s chair and addressed Council.
After remarking on his years of service under three council presidents, thanking the clerks and administration staff of every council member and even taking a moment to toss a verbal bouquet to the press, Kenney spoke of his support for the LGBTQ community, his personal upbringing and lessons learned along the way.
“There’s been some general guiding principals I’ve tried to live by over my carer,” Kenney said. “One is, don’t ever be afraid to take an unpopular position because you think it’s unpopular. When you stand up in the ‘90s for domestic partnerships in the City of Philadelphia — and standing up against institutions that are totally against that — it’s very hard.”
Even the members of the Republican minority congratulated Kenney for everything, from his stances on gender equality and support for first–responders to Kenney’s willingness to stand up for the principles he held dear.
Minority Leader Councilman Brian O’Neil, the longest–tenured member of Council, said now is simply Kenney’s time.
“While we may disagree on things, have different perspectives and live in different parts of the city, we know that Jim is smart, he’s trustworthy, works hard and cares about those less fortunate,” O’Neil said. “I might not have said it four years ago, and I might not have said it a year ago, but today, he’s ready.”
Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. said he and Kenney didn’t always see eye–to–eye — especially during the earlier years, but Goode now considers Kenney a friend.
“Some might say that Jim Kenney is responsible for me becoming the councilman that I am, because there was not always a time when I could call him a colleague and a friend,” Goode said. “But over time, we have grown to have mutual admiration and respect for one another. It is actually sad to see my friend and colleague go, but I wish him well.”
Kenney also spoke of the passage of his bill that decriminalized small–amount possession of marijuana, noting there have been 90 percent fewer arrests, which in turn has freed up resources and law enforcement manpower.
He spoke reverently about the public service sector, fondly recalling how his father, now a retired fireman, would come home reeking of soot and burned wood, but Kenney was relieved because that smell also meant his father had returned safe from another shift.
“You’re never truly happy unless you’re serving someone else,” Kenney added. “And once you figure that out, it becomes something so simple and beautiful.”