Pa. state Sen. Williams, former controller Butkovitz challenge Philly Mayor Kenney

Pa. state Senator Anthony Hardy Williams (left) and Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz. (Emma Lee/WHYY and Jana Shea for WHYY)

Pa. state Senator Anthony Hardy Williams (left) and Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz. (Emma Lee/WHYY and Jana Shea for WHYY)

Two Democrats are challenging Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s bid for a second term.

It’s a rematch for Kenney, who has drawn criticism over the city’s sweetened beverage tax and his sanctuary city policies.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony Williams and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz both filed petitions Tuesday to challenge Kenney in the May 21 primary. Both men have been fixtures in Philadelphia politics for several decades, although Butkovitz was defeated by Democratic challenger Rebecca Rhynhart in 2017.

A spokesperson for Williams declined to comment on the senator’s mayoral bid. But Butkovitz said he had collected 7,000 signatures in support of his run from residents sick of Kenney administration’s policies. Williams also ran for mayor four years ago when Kenney won.

“He’s ignoring the serious violent crime crisis and is moving the city backwards on economic development,” Butkovitz said.

Kenney has powerful enemies. Many of the mayor’s key agenda items –– such as expanded pre-K and the public works project Rebuild –– are underpinned by revenue from a tax on sweetened beverages passed in 2015. The beverage industry is still pouring millions into a PR war designed to undermine public support for the 1.5 cents-per-ounce levies, which it has painted as a job killer.

Meanwhile, Butkovitz has criticized the slow rollout of programs funded by the tax and the failure to create stronger inclusionary contracting rules for programs such as Rebuild.

“He raises money for Rebuild, but then there is no Rebuild,” Butkovitz said. “And he doesn’t have room for minority contractors.”

Further, Kenney’s biggest political backers, from the politically powerful Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are enmeshed in a scandalizing federal indictment.  The mayor himself has denied any knowledge or connection to these charges.

The mayor’s campaign attempted to show popular support by filing some 24,000 petitions in support of Kenney’s re-election, according to spokesman Harry Morgan. He also highlighted what he described as Kenney’s accomplishments: expanded pre-K; a return of public schools to local control; a smaller city jail population; and a modest increase in jobs.

Morgan called both Butkovitz and Williams “corporate shills.”

“The mayor’s two primary opponents are corporate shills for the multibillion-dollar beverage industry who want to turn back the clock on the mayor’s progressive agenda,” he said.

Morgan also critiqued Williams prior, controversial support from moneyed charter school interests and ribbed Butkovitz for flubbing the launch of his campaign website.

“It’s not surprising that vested corporate interests would back someone like Sen. Williams, who supports a radical pro-charter agenda that would make Betsy DeVos proud,” Morgan said. “And Alan Butkovitz? He can’t even get a website up.”

Separately, lawyer Billy Ciancaglini filed petitions to run for mayor as a Republican. With no other contenders from within his party by late Tuesday, Ciancaglini would have a lock on the GOP nomination.

But all Kenney’s challengers will face an uphill battle. Ciancaglini will run in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly seven to one, and no Republican has clinched the mayoral contest since the since the Philadelphia City Charter was drafted in 1954. Nor has any sitting mayor been beaten by a Democratic primary challenger.

However, Butkovitz sought to put a positive spin on two Democratic challengers pursuing a longshot bid against an incumbent mayor.

“You never know what’s going to happen in a three-way race,” he said. “One way to look at it is that, with two candidates emphasizing the failures of the Kenney administration, that’s twice as much trouble for the mayor.”

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