On Thursday afternoon, I stood feet from the Mayor of Philadelphia as one Asian-American after another, all whom was at City Hall for a press conference pertaining to the newly constituted Mayor’s Commission on Asian-American Affairs, approached his side for a photograph. In a way, the scene in the Mayor’s Reception Room resembled the small clown car shtick: the bodies just kept flowing, and every time you thought the end was near, continuity emerged instead.
It was a sight to see, and observers nearby smiled and chuckled, some who themselves were taking pictures. Amidst the hilarity it was noticeable, to me at least, that Mayor Jim Kenney, soon to celebrate a year anniversary as the City’s chief executive, was becoming winded and, though absolutely welcoming of, and pleasant to, each citizen who desired to commemorate the occasion via photograph, wasn’t fully comfortable with the exercise. Embracing the celebrity that comes with the job of running Philadelphia might be, for Mr. Kenney, the biggest learning curve.
“I don’t have a personality that loves all that adulation stuff, but you have to get used to it,” the Mayor, standing adjacent to his lectern, told me.
When he served for more than two decades on Philadelphia City Council, requests from the public for photographs – and the occasional selfie – never happened.
“It’s only since I’ve been Mayor,” Mr. Kenney said.
At the onset of 2015, Mr. Kenney resigned from his position on the Philadelphia City Council, where he had successfully pushed to decriminalize marijuana, to pursue the big second floor office at City Hall. The 2015 Mayoral race came with many forums, debates and town halls, including one on police and criminal justice reform organized by Techbook Online, the news and event company I founded six years ago. Mr. Kenney, of course, was victorious in the overall contest, and by the date of inauguration, which was January 4th, he was, in his own words, “exhausted.”
“I was in a whirlwind after the election… we had run for a 110 days straight.”
So exhausted was the South Philadelphia born politician that at the time of taking his oath he “wasn’t sure” exactly what his priorities would be for year one, other than mitigating stop-and-frisk, which even today remains a point of contention due some voters saying he walked back his promise to reign in the policing practice; Mr. Kenney told Techbook Online exclusively that the numbers have dropped dramatically – “We’re never gonna stop pedestrian stop entirely” – and the data to support the claim will be announced in mid-January.
Mr. Kenney, however, did have some numbers to disperse, and they were related more to criminal justice than policing: in 2015, the year the City of Philadelphia received a multi-million dollar McArthur Foundation grant to, among other thing, de-crowd prisons, the number of female prisoners went from 900 to 600, and the overall number of total inmates went from 7,500 to 6,800 – Techbook Online has yet to verify these numbers.
Despite the claimed success in the area of police and criminal justice, Mr. Kenney’s first year in office is known largely for his ability to, in order to pay for renovations to parks, libraries and recreational centers, and also to square away quality pre-K, pass a soda tax, an idea not thought of by the Mayor when he took office last January. Interestingly enough, when the idea of a soda tax was raised in 2016 by Mr. Rob Dubow, the City’s director of finance, Mr. Kenney felt as if the proposal would be dead-on-arrival. The soda tax had its opposers, mainly the soda lobby, who even filed a lawsuit to stop the tax from being enacted, but this week a judge dismissed said lawsuit.
By every measure, 2016 exceeded the Mayor’s expectations. Looking ahead into 2017, Mr. Kenney predicts a steeper dip in both the overall number of pedestrian stops conducted, and those that are unconstitutional. Additionally, and though he has no power over this process, the Mayor hopes for, if not in 2017 than in the immediate years to follow, the full legalization in Pennsylvania of marijuana, which he suggested should be sold in same location where consumer purchase their wines and spirits.
“I would like to see it legalized statewide. We’re pretty hypocritical when we sell, tax, and promote alcohol and we lock people up for weed. It’s not an opioid, it’s not heroin… it’s not a methamphetamine. This is something that grows naturally … that people have used for eons; it should never been stigmatized and criminalized the way it was.”
Mr. Kenney favors “taxing the crap” out of legalized marijuana and funneling the money into schools and infrastructure projects. The social good angle worked wonders for passing the soda tax, which had previously failed to gain traction when proposed by former Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, in 2016, so there’s a chance that 2017, or maybe its successor, could be, if Mr. Kenney lobbies hard enough, the year of the weed tax.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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Photo courtesy of the author.