Abraham’s comments at Parkside mayoral forum irk Kenney campaign

 Philadelphia mayoral candidates Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney are in the midst of a pension-related dust-up. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia mayoral candidates Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney are in the midst of a pension-related dust-up. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

As we mentioned in our story about Thursday morning’s Business Association of West Parkside’s mayoral forum, Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney got into a bit of a verbal dustup regarding the ever-looming pension issue.

Near the end of the 90-minute event, Abraham questioned the wisdom of a 2007 law change championed by then-councilman Kenney that required the city’s pension fund “regardless of how underfunded it might be … to share some of its good fortune with retirees if it manages to outperform its investment goals,” according to the Inquirer.

“The first thing I would do is ignore it, try to override it,” said Abraham at the event.

Kenney then seized the opportunity to fire back with a response regarding the controversial DROP program. He said that he was not only the lone councilperson to vote against it, but that he wouldn’t take his DROP payment now, or after a potential mayoral tenure. (Campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt vouched for Kenney’s DROP aversion on Friday morning).

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Fast forward to Friday, and the Kenney campaign re-sent a “You won’t believe this” fundraising email. It reads:

Today, former DA Lynne Abraham showed her true colors in the first candidates’ forum. When asked about our city’s pension crisis, she blamed Jim for sponsoring legislation that will soon give our city’s retired firefighters and police their first cost of living increase in seven years.

While Lynne took a $371,000 DROP payment and receives an automatic cost of living adjustment as part of her six-figure city pension, she doesn’t think those who put their lives on the line every day for Philadelphia deserve one as well.

Denying retired firefighters and police officers their first cost of living adjustment in seven years to save one percent of our pension fund isn’t fiscally responsible — it’s immoral.

Kathleen Redmond, a firefighter’s widow from Willow Grove, said it best in today’s Inquirer:

“Abraham may accuse Kenney of pandering and being fiscally irresponsible, but to the families who sacrificed for the city and watched politicians collect ever-increasing pensions, Kenney’s budget priorities appear very much in order.”

As a City Councilman for 23 years, Jim knows the only way to tackle difficult problems like the pension crisis is to work together and fight for the underdog. As the chief sponsor of the rainy day fund bill, Jim lead his colleagues in making sure our city is financially prepared for any future economic crisis. And when he saw DROP threatening the health of our pension system, he was the sole vote against it.

Oh snap (with the snap being verified by a 2006 Inquirer article that put Abraham’s DROP payment at  $370,361.)

Abraham’s campaign manager, Stuart Rosenberg, issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

For Lynne’s opponent, Jim Kenney, to falsely and deliberately misrepresent what Lynne Abraham said at a televised, audio and video-recorded debate on February 19, 2015, shows Kenney’ desperation and fear of Lynne’s popularity. Lynne stood behind Mayor Michael Nutter’s statements that any attempt to award pension bonuses to everyone receiving a city pension, at a time when our pension fund is underwater by about five billion dollars, threatens the entire pension house of cards. Any money going to pensioners, just because the stock pickers did a better job in one year than in previous years, threatens not only those receiving pensions now, but also city employees who hope and expect their bargained for pensions to be there for them in the future.

Outside of their families, no one knows more about the deaths and injuries of police officers and firefighters than Lynne Abraham. For the better part of nineteen years as District Attorney, Lynne investigated every death and injury of these brave public servants and prosecuted the guilty parties. Her investigations included the deaths of Captain John Redmond and Firefighter Vencent Acey, as well as the deaths of Captain John Taylor and Firefighter Rey Rubio.

Kenney’s attack is ironic.

Jim Kenney not only qualifies for a pension from the city, he was also getting a salary from Vitetta, a company he worked for while he was collecting his $165 thousand a year city council salary and accruing pension benefits. Not only is that double-dipping, it may qualify for triple- dip status. While during that same time, Vitetta also gained lucrative City contracts. His yearly salaries further included a paid board position with Independence Blue Cross, which also has contracts with the City.

Rather than taking the time to tackle difficult problems, Kenney only makes them worse by spending his time pandering for votes. Far from making the city safer for retirees, he makes things worse by seeking to add to our serious pension deficits. Lynne supports pension benefits bargained for at the collective bargaining table and respects all bargained-for pension rights.

Kenney has made an appalling mistake with this feeble attempt to tarnish Lynne Abraham’s credibility with police and firefighters. They know better. Philadelphia knows better. Already this is being seen as the obvious trick that is it. Kenney must fear Lynne’s strength in these two municipal communities to pull this futile, ill-advised scheme.


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