Ahead of Philly primary, incumbent Jim Kenney reflects on the nature of being mayor

After nearly four years as Philadelphia’s mayor, Jim Kenney says he expects to be re-elected, but, if that doesn’t happen, he might become a teacher.

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks during a news conference at City Hall in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks during a news conference at City Hall in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

In advance of next week’s primary election in Philadelphia, WHYY’s Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn is airing bits of conversations she’s had with Democrats running for mayor: current Mayor Jim Kenney, state Sen. Anthony Williams, and former city controller Alan Butkovitz.

She’s chosen to share comments they’ve made that say more about their personalities than their campaigns.

Today, we hear from the incumbent, Jim Kenney.

Lynn spoke with him a few weeks ago at his campaign headquarters at The Bellevue Hotel on Broad Street. His demeanor seemed indifferent, as he’s been resting on a lot of campaign money — more than his opponents have — and he’s doing well in the polls.

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She asked him if he’s re-elected, what might he do differently.

Not much. I mean I think the programs that are moving forward are positive programs for the betterment of the city. We’ll continue doing that. I’ve got to stop taking things as personal as I take them on some accounts. Taking things personally is something that is good because it motivates you to change it. And if you’re ever in a situation where you’re callous and don’t care, you know, you’re not going in the right direction.

Are you close to callous and uncaring?

Me? No, not at all. I’m emotional and take things personally and want to change things, and it sometimes wears you down a little bit mentally and physically. But, no, I’m not. I’m not going to turn to the callous and don’t care mode model.

Was this what you thought it was going to be … being mayor?

In some ways yes, in some ways no. The public nature of the job is sometimes a little stunning that everybody knows you and wants to talk to you. Sometimes, I’ll just take a trip up to New York for overnight or for a weekend just to be anonymous — to be anonymous in a city of 8 million people. It’s kind of nice to hide out sometimes. What surprised me is the physical visibility of the job, and the people’s ownership of the office. And I think that’s pretty staggering.

And do we know you?

You don’t know everything about everybody. Nor do you want to know everything about everybody. I think people understand that I have [and] that I can be emotional, that I can be caring, that I am caring, and that sometimes that can frustrate you.

What do you wish we knew about you?

I don’t know. It’s a little deep. That I look at and treat everyone as a creature of God — a human being who deserves respect and deserves that opportunity. And there’s no throwaway people. And there’s no people that should be deterred or held back because of the color of their skin or their ethnic origin or their gender or their LGBTQ status. Everybody’s equal, and everybody should be treated equal.

And that said, that’s coming from a place where you have to say that.

Because people treat people differently based on what they look like and who they are. And I think that’s unconscionable, and I think that if you’re a religious person, and you claim yourself as a Christian or as a Muslim or a Jew, and you treat people differently because of who they are what they look like, then you’re not living up to the standards of your religion or of your faith. And I think that the people that re-examine, especially those whose ancestors come from other countries who claim to be Catholics or Christian and want to lock people up because they’re Mexican or Central American or want to separate their children from them, is so anti-Jesus, that it’s stunning that they don’t understand it.

The great Dave Davies who I work with was sharing with me, there was another reporter who asked you — I don’t know if it was the kind of off-the-cuff interview or something like — you know, do you like being mayor. And I think your answer was something like, if I don’t win, that’s all right.

We’re running to win. I expect to win, but, if for some reason or another it weren’t to happen, I would move on and do something positive and probably less public profile. I’d really like to teach. I’d really like to work with kids. And I would go do something else. Things happen for a reason. Life … you can’t predict it. You just roll with the punches and move on.

Sounds like advice you would give your own children.

Yes. I’d give anybody that, not only my kids but I’d give anybody that advice. Don’t fret over what doesn’t happen or what might not happen, but try to live in the moment and do your best to be a good person.

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