Philly Mayor Jim Kenney looks back at chaotic year, maintains he won’t resign

Mayor Jim Kenney in his office at City Hall. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney in his office at City Hall. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

July 4 may have been the low point of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s 2022.

Following a shooting that injured two Philadelphia police officers assigned to the city’s Independence Day festivities, Kenney lamented the stress his job requires.

“I’ll be happy when I’m not mayor and I can enjoy some stuff,” Kenney said during an impromptu press conference late that night.

Now with just one year left in the mayor’s office, Kenney looks back on a difficult 2022.

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“I took the job to finish it,” he said in a year-end interview with WHYY News. “That moment of frustration at that particular time of night with that particular circumstance is an expression of frustration and anger. But it doesn’t mean I don’t go to work every day. It doesn’t mean I don’t try my best every day.”

While local civic leaders denounced Kenney’s comments, he pointed to positive stories published in newspapers outside the city as evidence of the good things that are going on in Philadelphia.

“We get more good press in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. We’ve had more positive stories in those. The Wall Street Journal, it’s basically a Republican conservative paper that did a total layout of the city’s rebirth and the city’s reinvigoration when we convinced them.”

Kenney said he gets “hugs and well wishes” from people in the city and is urged to, in his words, “keep up the good work.”

He admitted the city could have done better when it came to “the civil unrest and the pandemic” over the past two years, but said there “were no playbooks for them,” and he couldn’t call anyone for advice because “no one has ever been through this.”

For the second year in a row, Philadelphia has topped 500 murders under Kenney’s watch.

As the field of candidates to replace him in the mayor’s office continues to grow, much of the campaign rhetoric has centered on reducing crime and violence in the city. A defensive Kenney questioned what those running for mayor would do differently.

“What are you specifically going to do to drive those numbers down that we didn’t do?,” Kenney asked. “I think they have to go out and show people what they’re going to do and not only tell them, but explain to them how they’re going to do it.”

Kenney conceded the issue of crime and drugs is difficult to deal with in the city, but defended his decision not to bring in the National Guard to assist Philadelphia Police as some have suggested.

“Seriously? I mean, could you imagine trying to get out from under that over the next decade where I have people in military garb, military gear with loaded rifles, marching around neighborhoods in Philadelphia with no police, no police training, and no ability to arrest. I mean, those kinds of knee-jerk suggestions are not only wrong, it’s wrong long-term.”

On the positive side, Kenney pointed to the city’s $500 million budget surplus as projected by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority. That, coupled with efforts to support the city’s pension fund, which is 60% funded, and will be 80% funded within a few years, are high points for his administration, Kenney said.

“Poverty is down three clicks, 3%, not anywhere near as much as we need to get it down. But getting poverty down 3% in a pandemic and in two recessions, I mean, that’s not bad stuff,” Kenney said.

As he enters his final year in office, Kenney said there is still plenty for him and his administration to do.

“Besides the gun violence issue, which is absolutely number one, I go to the other set of things we also have to do. You have to continue to fund education. We have to continue to drive down our wage and business taxes. We have to continue to be an attractor to business and retention, a retainer of businesses we got to continue to help push hospitality, tourism.”

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He said with the right help, the city will be fine moving forward.

“I am very, very proud and happy to be mayor. I’m not happy with, I think, some of the problems that we have to face,” he said. He said some problems “are very daunting, and some of them are frustrating because you don’t have all the tools.”

Among those frustrations, Kenney said, is Pennsylvania state lawmakers’ refusal to give the city the ability to regulate firearms more strictly within its borders than elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Philadelphia voters will select a new mayor in November. Kenney will remain in his post until the election winner is sworn in in January 2024.

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