An African-American man is poised to take up the highest unelected position in Philadelphia.
Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to appoint Tumar Alexander, 45, as interim city managing director to replace Brian Abernathy when Abernathy leaves his post on Sept. 4, Kenney spokeswoman Deana Gamble confirmed today in an email.
Kenney said in an email that Alexander, currently the first deputy managing director, is well-positioned to transition into the acting managing director’s role, adding, “he is certainly in consideration for the permanent appointment.”
“He is a lifelong Philadelphian with deep community roots; a hard worker; and is well-respected among his colleagues and our many partners,” Kenney said.
The administration continues to review the managing director’s office as it seeks to restructure it.
During the past two decades, Alexander has held roles in three mayoral administrations, working on policy and operations.
As an African-American man, Alexander said, his “lived experiences bring a different voice and a different perspective to the table.”
Describing himself as “more of a behind-the-scenes person,” Alexander said his management style was based on “leading by example.”
“I’m not itching for attention,” he said. ‘“I just like to get the job done and support the mayor, his vision, his programs. … I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get involved.”
Yet Alexander will take over a high-profile managing director position that oversees a series of departments, including the police department, and crises affecting the city — the novel coronavirus pandemic, demonstrations around police brutality and racism, gun violence, homelessness, and the opioid epidemic, to name a few.
The managing director plays a major role in developing and implementing Kenney’s policy initiatives, monitors performance and more.
Alexander said he shared the mayor’s vision for the city. When he takes up the role, Alexander said, he will lean on his long experience in city government, the administration’s current leadership team, and his ability to channel voices from the community, like the Philadelphia Black Clergy and Vicinity.
Alexander rose to become former Mayor Michael Nutter’s deputy chief of staff and worked in former Mayor John Street’s administration, where he worked on Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, among other things.
“For me, I just like doing the work,” Alexander said. “But where there’s times I need to step up and lead, step up and be present, I’m going to be present; I’m going to lead.”
Alexander said his response to the new high-profile role is “to be determined,” but added, “I’m not afraid of the spotlight.”
A North Philadelphia native, Alexander grew up in the Richard Allen Homes and attended the now defunct William Penn High School before he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State University.
Abernathy has served as managing director since January 2019. When Kenney took office in 2016, he appointed Abernathy first deputy to former Managing Director Michael Diberardinas, who resigned in 2018.
He announced his resignation earlier this month, in the midst of intense criticism for his handling of the protests over the police killing of George Floyd in recent months. Activists have criticized the police department for its use of excessive physical force, rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful protesters.
Abernathy had called for an African-American woman to take over his post.
Kenney has come under scrutiny over the lack of diversity in his inner cabinet. His 15-member cabinet includes three African Americans, 11 whites and one Latina.
Gamble admitted that Kenney did not believe the diversity on his cabinet was sufficient nor does it adequately represent the diversity of our city.
“Improving diversity among the entire City workforce, especially leadership positions, remains a top priority of the administration,” Gamble said.