BY: DAMON C. WILLIAMS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Mayor–elect Jim Kenney won Tuesday’s election over Melissa Murray Bailey with large support from the African–American community. Now, leaders here expect him to deliver on campaign promises of making the city a more inclusive one.
“What we hope and would like to see, first of all, is for Kenney to select a diverse cabinet reflective of the demographics of the city,” said the Rev. Terrance Griffith, President of Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, who congratulated Kenney on the win and noted the organization had supported him from the start.
“Secondly we would like to see — unlike in the Nutter administration where we’ve seen a 2– to 3–percent increase in poverty in the city that disproportionately affects African–Americans — Kenney tackle the issues of poverty, and come up with ways to empower African–Americans in the city,” he said.
Kenney’s election brings an end, for now, to Black mayoral leadership in the mayor’s office, where the terms of Michael Nutter, John Street and W. Wilson Goode were only interrupted by Ed Rendell who served from 1992 to 2000. Griffith believes Kenney has a unique opportunity in front of him to truly unite the city.
“Our expectations ought to be high, but the new mayor coming in has a tremendous opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong and turn the city around,” he said. “As a caucasian, he has an opportunity to show that he will work to strengthen the African–American community. He has an opportunity to be the greatest mayor the city has ever seen, as he is strategically positioned to make that happen.”
Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) said his groups’ expectations of Kenney lie in improving the economy and jobs for the city’s marginalized populace.
“During the campaign, Kenney made commitments toward raising the minimum wage to $15 and hour,” he said. “We’d like to see that come to pass, and we appreciate his willingness to fight with the state for Philadelphia to be able to set its own minimum wage. We are also looking and watching what he does with the police department and what comes of the justice department’s report.
“But we are going have expectations regarding job growth and development,” Royster added. “There are all sorts of construction projects going on, and we want the mayor to make sure marginalized communities are high on the list for those jobs with the building trades, because we know that is a way to rise out of poverty.”
Million Father March Executive Director and House of Umoja Co-Founder David Fattah said he expected Kenney to focus on safety and education — two issues paramount to the African–American community and a significant portion of House of Umoja’s mission.
“I may be overly optimistic in my old age, but I feel excited that Kenney has joined the chorus of ‘Black Lives Matter,’’’ he said. “His plans to eliminate poverty is part of the House of Umoja’s mission. We also expect Kenney to improve the criminal justice system in terms of re-entry, such as getting housing and jobs to successfully re-enter society.
“The most important thing is the impetus on education,” Fattah added. “It is extremely telling and extremely important that he visited that school the day after he won the election, to let those students know that they are important and that’s why he made the school the first stop. That’s why I feel encouraged.”
The issue of policing proved to be a lightning rod during both the primary and general election. Kenney has said he would abolish the stop–and–frisk police tactic, and has already succeeded in crafting a law, since passed, that decriminalized small–amount possession of marijuana.
NAACP Philadelphia President Rodney Muhammad said if Kenney does away with that tactic, he would have already done more than what was accomplished during the eight years of the Nutter administration.
“If the way he governs is anything like the way he campaigned, a lot of the things the African–American community should have been demanding over the course of the last eight years” will occur, Muhammad said. “why would [Black voters] sit and wait eight years to demand, now that a white person coming in, when they wouldn’t demand it of their own. Stop–and–frisk needs to stop. I demanded this the eight years Michael Nutter was in; but now, that’s getting ready to stop.”
Griffith theorized if Kenney tapped Richard Ross to replace retiring Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, that would be a step in the right direction.
Muhammad also called for aggressive action against straw-purchasing, which floods community with guns, and spoke on efforts to slow mass incarceration.
“Many people of color are tied up in the criminal justice system for small amounts of marijuana,” he said. “The incoming mayor, when he was councilman at-large, managed to get a bill passed into law decriminalizing these small amounts of marijuana.”
In regards to Kenney’s new post, Griffith urged, “We should rally around him before criticizing him. We need to say to him that we expect a lot from him and want him to succeed. Because if the city succeeds, then we as African–Americans will succeed.”
Millennium 3 President A. Bruce Crawley said he was concerned the African–American community wasn’t “very specific about goals and objectives” during the primary, but now that Kenney is elected, Crawley feels Kenney can accomplish much of what needs to be done, in regards to the economy.
Crawley has a unique insight into Kenney’s thinking. They have spoken since the primary, and they served together on a board, where they were tasked with resolving issues of minority inclusion.
“He needs to do more work to include African-Americans in the economy of the city,” Crawley said. “There has been lip service paid to it, and people talk of inclusion but not in a serious way, and the numbers [of minority inclusion] are prepared in a way to be misleading. Kenney has to be aware of the fact of the real need to include African–Americans and other people of color in the economy.
“If you ant to get rid of the stigma of being the highest poverty-rated big city, you do that by creating jobs and contract opportunities or those that are the majority of the population,” he added. “This is the old, Black versus white thing. This is simple, basic economic sense.”
Attorney Michael Coard offered, “During the primary, I supported the Black candidate (Senator Williams) because he’s Black and because he has a history of fighting for the rights of Black people. But I can’t hate on Mayor-Elect Kenny, and that’s because he not only has said and is saying the right things, he also has done and is doing the right things. For example, he’s an advocate for a livable wage, increased educational funding, marijuana decriminalization, LGBTQ rights, a welcoming immigration policy, and community policing. That kind of progressive thought is a rare breath of fresh air in politics. All he has to do now is just step up his Black game a little — or a lot.”