Mummers leader says he wants to work with Mayor Kenney to keep parade

Brendan Ireland, a member of Philadelphians for Mummery tossed confetti as he marched the parade route.

Brendan Ireland, a member of Philadelphians for Mummery, tossed confetti as he marched the parade route. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

After Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney threatened to end the Mummers Parade if organizers don’t find a way to root out offensive displays such as blackface, the head of one Mummers group says he wants to see well-defined rules to help organizers police the parade.

Comic Division President Richard Porco says in addition to the two Mummers caught wearing blackface in this year’s parade, some others were intercepted before they began the New Year’s Day strut.

“That morning, I don’t know the number but there were a few other blackface participants, which the city pulled them aside got them to wipe it off and then they were allowed to be in the parade.  So we do try to police it,” Porco said.

Porco says he wants to see the city come up with concrete rules for the groups to follow.

“We need them to help us come up with a solution,” he said. “You can’t arrest them, it’s not an arrestable thing they are doing, it’s their way of thinking.”

Porco says since 2016 when the city mandated cultural sensitivity training for parade participants, they have worked to root out offensive displays.

“We are trying our best. We’ve improved our themes. We do immensely since 2016 and we’re going to work on it.  Out of 10,000 Mummers two knuckleheads went rogue and I think they regret it,” he said, referring to the two members of the Froggy Carr brigade who were caught wearing blackface. Parade organizers disqualified that brigade from the competition in response.

The Mummers have a long history of blackface and other offensive displays. Blackface was banned as far back as 1964, but organizers have not been able to remove it completely.

Mayor Kenney, a former member of the Fancy Brigades himself, issued a letter Thursday saying the city would come up with a new parade that would displace the Mummers from Broad Street if they do not clean up their act.

In addition to the mayor’s threat, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass is proposing a five-year ban and $75 fine for any Mummer wearing blackface. Bass says she had the proposed penalty vetted by the City Solicitor.

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