Kenney a no-show at Black Women’s Leadership event

Weeks before the May 21 democratic primary, participants filled a room at First District Plaza for a mayoral forum. (Angela Gervasi for WHYY)

Weeks before the May 21 democratic primary, participants filled a room at First District Plaza for a mayoral forum. (Angela Gervasi for WHYY)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s failure to appear at a forum for mayoral candidates sponsored by four African-American women’s organizations isn’t sitting well with the organizers.

“We had a seat for him, just like we had a seat for everybody else,” said Emma Chappell, the founder of United Bank and co-convener of the Black Women’s Leadership Council, one of four groups that hosted the event last week.

“This is a group of African-American women, and men, who came out to hear his plans for the next four years,” Chappell said, “and so, many of us were insulted that he wouldn’t do that.”

Kenney’s two rivals for the Democratic nomination, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz and State Sen. Anthony Williams, took questions for more than an hour on housing, crime, education, economic development, the soda tax, and diversity in public jobs and contracts.

Mayoral candidates Anthony Williams and Alan Butkovitz sit for a portrait after a forum. Mayor Jim Kenney did not attend. (Angela Gervasi for WHYY)

In answering a question about increasing the participation of people of color in city contracts, Butkovitz drew applause when he said the panelists were being “polite to a fault” in not pointing out the mayor’s absence.

“Jim Kenney should be here tonight,” Butkovitz said. “He sent a note at the last minute saying he had some previous engagement?”

Kenney drew some criticism after a recent city controller’s report found whites over-represented among non-civil service employees. He pointed to a number of ranking African-Americans in his administration and said he would work to increase their representation.

Joann Bell, another co-convener of the Black Women’s Leadership Council, said she “really wanted to hear the mayor.”

“I know he’s sensitive, but I really wanted him to step away from being sheltered,” she said, “and understand that he needs to step up and be the mayor of this city.”

In an email, Kenney’s campaign cited an unspecified scheduling conflict as the reason for his absence.

Kenney’s re-election campaign has been noticeably quieter than his successful run for the office four years ago. He announced his re-election bid in a video and has done few public campaign events.

Kenney said in an interview last month that he has a full-time job being mayor, and that he does plenty of public events where he’s available to citizens and the media.

“My job is being mayor first, and being a candidate second,” he said.

The political reality is that Butkovitz and Williams lack the campaign cash to do much advertising and that front-runners in political races often limit their appearances with challengers.

Kenney faced his rivals at a Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists’ forum on April 22, and he will join in a televised debate May 13.

He does not plan to participate in a debate hosted by KYW Newsradio Thursday evening.

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