A vision of past, present, and future at Philadelphia City Council’s final session of 2023

Mayor Jim Kenney says goodbye and Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker says hello in address to City Council’s final meeting of the year.

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Darrell Clarke speaks from a podium

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke gives his final speech to City Council as president of the legislative body on Dec. 14, 2023. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

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There were two surprise visits to the final meeting of Philadelphia City Council for the year. First, a seemingly relaxed and even jovial Mayor Jim Kenney stopped by for what amounted to a farewell address that only a few people knew was coming.

Kenney joked with council members during a brief speech from the clerk’s podium, a space he usually only visited once a year to give his budget address.

“I must say it’s the first time I’ve ever seen Councilman [Curtis] Jones not making a speech,” Kenney quipped.

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The mayor called his visit “back to the future,” reminiscing about his time as a member of council before he was elected mayor.

Kenney spoke about the good and bad times he’s had during the eight years he spent in office as mayor. He reflected on how the city rallied during the COVID crisis.

“I remember standing in an empty Liacouras Center, looking at a 150-bed hospital we had to build and thought to myself, ‘I never imagined as a council member and mayor we would have to do that.’”

He also spoke on how he worked with council to “invest in our city’s children and build our parks and libraries. We made record investments in education and public safety and have taken many historic steps to advance equity, inclusion, prosperity, and the quality of life for all of our citizens.”

Kenney also showed optimism for the future as he wished the members of the body well.

“There are many exciting moments ahead for our city, a historic inauguration, the World Cup, the 250th anniversary of our country, and I will be cheering for you every step of the way.”

Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker also took the chance to speak to council, spending almost all her time talking about the departure of Council President Darrell Clarke, who opted for retirement over running for re-election.

“He took the council to another level that people had never imagined, the technical staff, the best and brightest in the city, whereas council could stand under its own research. He studied under the master, but sometimes the master can master the master.”

Parker spoke of how Clarke was also a big part of her campaign for mayor.

“None of it gets accomplished without this council president being by my side when you heard me talk about making Philadelphia the safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation with access to economic opportunity for all,” she said. “I knew we could do it because I have been working in partnership with him to get most of it done.”

At the end of the meeting, Clarke was filled with emotion as he spoke for the final time as council president.

He said it would be different for him after four decades in council to be moving into retirement and not having to put on a suit to go to work in the morning.

The head of the legislative branch of government said he built the technical staff while leading council so he didn’t have to wait for other branches of government, which could slow down the legislative process.

He also touted his work to lead council to invest $400 million into neighborhood development, including workforce housing. “We had to move the city to another level,” he said.

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“Councilmember [Quetcy] Lozada said I should come into City Hall every Thursday, that’s something that is not going to happen,” said Clarke who wants to spend time doing other things, including his hobby of auto racing.

Clarke said he didn’t really want to run for council, but when John Street resigned to run for mayor he was the only one left standing to take over the position. He admitted he had to take a pay cut initially from being Street’s chief of staff, but doesn’t regret the move.

“We are going to do what we have to do to take the city to the most ridiculously high level the city has ever seen,” Clarke said.

As the session wrapped up, he was presented with a series of gifts, including a photograph with him and the full council.

Kenyatta Johnson is expected to replace Clarke as council president, but that won’t become official until a vote is taken on Inauguration Day on January 2.

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