Philadelphia Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has appointed four more people to his staff, including a woman he calls “the bomb thrower” to direct his universal pre-K plan.
Anne Gemmell promises she’s never thrown any real bombs, but every time she visited Jim Kenney’s office when he was a City Councilman at-large he would ask her, “What do you want now?”
“It’s just a reference to relentless advocacy,” Gemmell said with a laugh.
Anne Gemmell will serve as the city’s pre-K Director. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Over the last 10 years, Gemmell has gained a reputation as a community activist. She was involved in the local Occupy movement as political director for the group Fight for Philly. Since 2014, Gemmell has worked as a lead organizer with Pre-K for PA. The campaign, organized by the Public Citizens for Children and Youth, is pushing for preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state.
Now, Gemmell will oversee that effort in Philadelphia — a campaign promise that comes with a $60 million price tag. In fact, at a press conference announcing her appointment Wednesday, Kenney said it was because of Gemmell that he made that promise.
“I would have never known about pre-K or pre-K’s importance without her advocacy, her undying advocacy,” he said.
Gemmell, who also taught in the Philadelphia schools for 10 years, will work under Kenney’s Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney. A major part of the job will be raising money, and she has already been meeting with the University of Pennsylvania and private developers about why they should help fund the plan.
“Earlier is better,” she said of preschool education. “It’s a bigger return on investment when you know that kids are prepared early, not just with literacy skills, but social-emotional, classroom behaviors.”
Kenney is relying on Gemmell’s proverbial “bomb-throwing” skills to meet his proposed launch date in September.
The mayor-elect also named Nina Ahmad as his deputy mayor for public engagement, a new position in City Hall inspired by similar offices in Chicago and New York City.
Ahmad expects her role will be to act as a “traffic cop” between the government and the community.
Nina Ahmad will serve as the deputy mayor for public engagement. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
“We have so many different constituent groups in the city,” she said. “We want to make sure that they have a place where their voices are heard and to take some real issues that they bring forward and bring them to the departments and organizations that could respond to those.”
Ahmad will step down as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women. In that role, she has been one of the leading voices calling for firing officials involved in the “porngate” email scandal.
As deputy mayor for public engagement, Ahmad will oversee several advisory commissions, including the Office of LGBT Affairs and the Office of Black Male Engagement.
Stephanie Monahon will oversee the city’s various volunteer programs as the chief service officer. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Kenney also tapped Stephanie Monahon to serve as chief service officer in charge of the city’s various volunteer programs. Like Gemmell, Monahon has a background in community organizing and currently serves as director of the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group.
Monahon said she wants to “create a culture of service” in Philadelphia.
“The powerful thing about volunteers is that their intentions are pure,” she said. “They’re driven by a desire to make the world a little better by their actions.”
Nellie Fitzpatrick will continue to serve as the director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Nellie Fitzpatrick will continue to serve as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, an office created by outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter in 2008.
A former prosecutor with the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, Fitzpatrick thanked the roughly 86,000 people who in November voted to make the LGBT Affairs office permanent in the city’s charter.
Kenney expects Fitzpatrick to continue her advocacy work on behalf of the entire LGBT community, but efforts are shifting focus to the city’s transgender residents.
“The LGB has been very much taken care of and paid attention to, but the T community needs to be recognized and given the respect and dignity they deserve in our society,” he said.