Kenney to appoint Tumar Alexander as Philly’s acting managing director

This story originally appeared on NBC10.

___

Mayor Jim Kenney intends to appoint Tumar Alexander, Philadelphia’s first deputy managing director, as the acting managing director once Brian Abenathy resigns in September, a spokesperson confirmed with NBC10. Alexander is also under consideration to become the city’s managing director permanently.

“We can confirm that Tumar is under consideration for the role,” a spokesperson with the Mayor’s office told NBC10. “The mayor intends to appoint Tumar in an acting capacity when Brian Abernathy departs on Sept. 4. In the meantime, the review of the managing director’s office is still underway, and determining the best structure of the City’s operating departments is the mayor’s current focus.”

As the city’s first deputy managing director, Alexander is responsible for overseeing Philadelphia’s major operating departments and their day-to-day functions. He also has direct oversight of the city’s public safety functions.

Abernathy announced earlier this month that he plans to resign his post on Sept. 4, 2020, ending a 19-month tenure.

The Managing Director’s office oversees public safety departments, streets, 311 and health and human services among other city services. Typically a behind-the-scenes civil servant, Aberthany was thrust front and center in recent months during the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest over systemic racial inequality.

In his resignation letter, Abernathy wrote, “Our city has weathered tremendous hardship over the past several months. In a short period of time, we’ve faced a pandemic, the worst economic crisis in a century, and important but difficult civil unrest. At the same time, we’ve seen a worsening opioid crisis, pervasive homelessness, and a rising murder rate. Throughout these months, there have been too many nights and weekends where my daughters have wondered where I was, and I’ve placed too many burdens on my wife’s shoulders. I love my job and my city and have made these sacrifices willingly, but 2020 has taken a toll on my family, on my mind, on my body, and on my soul.”

Abernathy was appointed as managing director by Mayor Kenney on Jan. 15, 2019. He had previously served as first deputy managing director.

During one of the city’s regularly scheduled COVID-19 response news conferences, Abernathy said it was time to have more diverse voices at the table and hoped to see a Black woman take over his role.

“I recognize that as a white man I have been granted privileges that are unfair. And I know that my daughters are going to have advantages that girls their same age that live close by are not going to have just because of who their parents are and the color of their skin. It’s not fair,” he said.

“I think as we traverse these challenging times, a voice of diversity is really important for the city’s future. I strongly believe that.”

Asked whether the city would commit to hiring a Black woman in the role, Kenney said they would hire the most qualified person for the job.

Abernathy, Kenney and Commissioner Danielle Outlaw were criticized for their response to demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd. All three gave conflicting accounts of why officers chose to use tear gas on protesters who marched on I-676 back on June 1.

Though they initially claimed the protesters were being violent as they blocked traffic, no such evidence emerged to back up the narrative. Instead, video of the incident showed officers violating the PPD’s own policy on the use of pepper spray.

Kenney and Outlaw later personally apologized for the incident and a deputy police commissioner in charge of the police response was demoted while a member of the city SWAT unit was fired.

During a virtual budget hearing later in June, Abernathy admitted he underestimated the response from protesters, rioters and looters amid the civil unrest over Floyd’s death. 

“I trusted our police tactics, managed multiple large events and trusted how we prepared,” Abernathy said. “I never imagined, having witnessed our city coming apart at the seams. I was dumbfounded by how out of touch I really was and how I underestimated the anger and rage and frustration of folks I’m hired to serve.”

Asked whether the resignation was tied to his handling of the civil unrest, both Abernathy and Kenney said that was not the case.

“None of this decision has to do with anything that happened in the past month,” Kenney said adding that the job requires 24/7 work and quickly becomes taxing.

Kenney said the men were discussing the move for weeks. Abernathy said he wasn’t sure what his next career move will be.

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal