Jim Kenney talks charter schools, Philly’s ‘neighborhood mentality,’ labor unions

 Former City Councilman Jim Kenney is one of six Democratic candidates for mayor running in the May primary. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Former City Councilman Jim Kenney is one of six Democratic candidates for mayor running in the May primary. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

For months, the six Democrats running for mayor of Philadelphia have been on a treadmill of public forums, debates, and meet-and-greets — chewing on a familiar slate of issues.

So, in an effort to break out of the well-worn political discourse, I’ve been having casual conversations with the candidates about their lives as well as a few pet issues.

Next up is former City Councilman Jim Kenney, who I spoke with in mid-March at Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School in Center City.

The school’s namesake — Albert Greenfield — was an early 20th century Philadelphia developer, who oversaw an ever-growing real estate empire that led to urban renewal in many parts of the city.

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That word — “renewal” — is crucial to how Kenney sees his would-be task as mayor.

“Renewal of the way in which we approach the delivery of education services in this city,” he said. “Renewal when it comes to the improvement and strengthening of community neighborhood shopping districts. Renewal of our waterfront.”

In Kenney’s view, achieving real change citywide would require breaking down the neighborhood mentality that makes some people care less about what’s going on across the city than what’s going on down the block.

“I would like to maintain the city-of-neighborhoods attitude,” Kenney said, “but at the same time break down some barriers so that we understand that we need to take care of each other … and show some real brotherly love and sisterly affection.”

On education, Kenney has championed making pre-K available for all Philadelphia children as he’s criticized the proliferation of charter schools, which he says bleed the public school system of its resources.

“It’s almost like you’re setting up the public schools to fail by allowing children to migrate … which is their parents’ choice,” Kenney said, “But with that goes the $7,000 or so that the … child brings with them.”

In our interview, Kenney went on to discuss Harrisburg (“Do we have to?”), what constitutes public safety in the wake of national protests over police-community relations, and his relationship with Philadelphia’s labor unions.

The statewide primary election will take place on May 19.

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