They couldn’t beat Kenney in Philly mayoral primary, so they endorsed him [audio]


Five Democratic candidates who fought for the party’s mayoral nomination went to a Fairmount restaurant on Thursday to eat with, and then endorse, Jim Kenney in November’s general election.

After sharing a “unity lunch” and privately chatting — with the exception of a few table-side photo-op moments — inside Sabrina’s Cafe, the sextet headed outside the Callowhill Street eatery to address the media.

What they said publicly

But for Doug Oliver’s scruff and Milton Street’s grey hair, they looked the same as they did throughout a campaign season that saw them share the stage at more than 80 mayoral forums.

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That duo joined state Sen. Tony Williams, former district attorney Lynne Abraham and long-resuméd Nelson Diaz in backing Kenney, who faces Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey (and possibly others) in November.

Kenney chalked the two-month lapse between the election and the luncheon up to the attendees’ conflicting schedules, citing Williams’ work related to the state budget in Harrisburg as an example.

The non-confrontational tenor that defined much of the campaign carried over, at least publicly.

“This was probably the most civilized campaign that focused on the issues instead of each other,” Abraham said. “I’m really happy that none of that happened.”

For his part, Williams cited a long-standing relationship with Kenney before they faced off in the primary.

“All of us have experiences that will help make Philadelphia a more viable city,” he said, noting that they weren’t only endorsing Kenney but “committed to making his administration as successful as possible. It’s really about Jim and his vision, not so much about us. We’re now the back-up singers of The Temptations, so I’m going to resign myself to that.”

Street cited memories of the Wilson Goode/Frank Rizzo “battle” as fomenting a more cordial relationship among the candidates this year.

“There was extreme racial polarization that came from that, so we were sensitive to the fact that we could have done more damage than good had we not tried to be civil. I think we did a good job with that,” Street said. “I am absolutely 1,000 percent behind Jim. We will do everything we can to make him a success in November and a success going forward.”

Oliver, who said “there were a lot of good ideas exchanged” during the campaign, recounted an earlier post-primary meeting he had with Kenney, specifically the response to when he asked how he planned to implement plans after the (presumably successful) general election.

“He answered me, quite frankly, with ‘I’m not sure yet, and that’s why I have to surround myself with talented people who know what they do, and I’m going to empower them to do their jobs,'” Oliver said. “That, to me, was a fair answer, because the one thing I’d be afraid of is a person who thinks they know everything leading our city.”

For his part, Diaz cited his standing as a “Roosevelt Democrat” in explaning why he could never support a Republican in any race and why he wants “to see Kenney as the next mayor of the city.”

Into the future

Kenney, who won the May 19 primary with nearly 56 percent of the low-turnout vote, noted his desire to work together with the five and those who supported his former foes.

“I don’t have all the answers to all the problems and a lot of people here have more experience than I do at things,” he said. “I’ll be looking for their counsel and guidance. This is a team effort. We’re going to do this together.”

Saying that his administraton would prioritize addressing poverty and creating family-sustaining jobs, Kenney noted that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit offers the chance to spark a “conversation about poverty in our city, nation and our world.”

And just who picked up the tab for the six-top meal? Kenney.

Additional reporting by WHYY’s Tom MacDonald.

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