Knives come out in Philly mayor’s race

     Mayoral candidate and former councilman Jim Kenney (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Mayoral candidate and former councilman Jim Kenney (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    When Tom Wolf ran for governor of Pennsylvania last year, he was blessed to have never sponsored a bill or cast a legislative vote.

    Neither former City Councilman Jim Kenney nor state Sen. Anthony Williams has that advantage.

    It’s early in the Philadelphia mayor’s race, but battle lines are beginning to emerge among candidates as they seek to exploit the records of their rivals.

    Kenney was forced to defend a 2007 bill he sponsored conferring additional benefits on city pensioners despite the fact that the pension fund is more than 50 percent underfunded. The Inquirer piece on the bill quoted no other candidates. The critical comments from Mayor Michael Nutter and his finance director makes one wonder where that story came from. Hmmmm.

    Kenney responded with a statement insisting he understands the need to manage the city’s finances carefully.

    “I was the chief sponsor on the rainy day fund bill, voted against DROP, refused it myself, and turned down cost of living increases that are automatically awarded to the mayor and City Council during the fiscal crisis,” Kenney said. (Read the rest of his statement here.)

    His opponents haven’t jumped on Kenney yet, but they no doubt delight in seeing his bonafides as a good government candidate questioned and hope he’ll be seen as pandering to unions.

    Meanwhile Williams will have to contend with his record as an advocate of taxpayer-funded school vouchers and charter expansion.

    Kenney’s campaign recently issued a statement calling Williams “a single-issue candidate driven by the contributions from anonymous billionaires … [supported by political committees] with either implicit or explicit education privatization missions.”

    That was after Williams said he thought the $25 million offer from the Philadelphia School Partnership to help defray the cost of charter expansion shouldn’t be quickly rejected.

    When I’ve asked, Williams has told me he doesn’t consider tuition vouchers an issue in the mayor’s race, and has indicated a general willingness to consider charter expansion. He’s emphasized his past efforts and future plans to increase financial support for Philadelphia’s schools.

    But as with Kenney’s 2007 pension bill, Williams’ past positions on school issues as well as his funding sources will be ready targets once the shooting starts with live ammunition (media buys) in the mayor’s race.

    Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham also has a long record as a prosecutor and public official, and opposition researchers are no doubt busy examining it.

    It’s yet to be seen whether the other contenders  will muster the support to make their records of interest to their rivals.Till then, they might feel a bit left out.

    One more thing. If you haven’t checked out the NewsWorks blog on the municipal elections, NinetyNine, do it, and see what former Mayor Wilson Goode has to say about running for and serving as mayor.

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