By Tom Cardella
Dear Mayor Kenney:
It’s been a while since Fran and I saw you in the lounge at The Palm. Always enjoyed our brief chats. Those were the days, as they say. You were a councilman and, we thought, a damn good one. Wasn’t unusual for you to answer your own phone. I liked that you cared so much about the quality of life in South Philly.
You’ve surprised a lot of people since then. You emerged from a crowded field to become the Democratic nominee for Mayor. Then, less surprisingly, (because it’s Philadelphia), you won the general election and became Mayor.
I don’t think you had the key to the Mayor’s restroom in City Hall before the attacks began. You didn’t have the gravitas to be Mayor. (I remember some of our mayors that preceded you. At least one or two of them would’ve thought “gravitas” was a kind of Italian water ice). At least one of your critics hinted that you might have a problem with alcohol.
A couple of conservative media personalities in this town were aghast. You might be the next Bill De Blasio (liberal Mayor of New York). Among conservatives, as you know, “De Blasio” is a synonym for the decline of western civilization. Some observers wrote that you were a loose cannon. They pointed to your tweets, one of which referred unflatteringly to the size of Chris Christie’s derriere. I thought you tweeted what most of us Eagles fans were thinking of Christie for his public butt kissing of Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. I wrote in this newspaper that what your critics thought of as intemperate anger was merely your passion about most things Philadelphia (THE PASSION OF JIM KENNEY — Feb. 12, 2015).
By now, if you didn’t know it beforehand, you’ve discovered that being mayor of a big city is no garden of roses. Lots of thorns. It’s why most mayors never advance to higher political office. Just check with Rudy Giuliani. On second thought, don’t check with Rudy Giuliani. He’s too busy making an ass of himself on TV these days. You’ve had to develop thick skin. You would probably agree that is a work in progress.
You deserve great credit for embracing a thankless task — saving the public schools of this city. There is little political reward … short-term, at least, for taking on that fight. At times it seems that Councilperson Helen Gym is the only other person at City Hall who cares as much about our public schools. You’ve “owned” responsibility for those schools. Rescued our schools from Harrisburg. With it comes the burden of paying for them with all of their many problems. Enter the Soda Tax. Hello, property tax assessments.
Some media types and the beverage industry, neither of whom had ever expressed much concern about poor folks before, suddenly became bleeding hearts over the soda tax.
I have concerns about some of the property tax assessments, but I realize that the legislators in Harrisburg don’t give the City much leeway in what it can tax.
You’ve taken on Trump and the Feds over their draconian immigration policies. I think you ultimately made the right decision in discontinuing sharing PARS data with ICE. I don’t agree that ICE should be abolished. That demand by some progressives is a political gift to Trump and the Republicans. Admittedly, it’s difficult to defend undocumented immigrants who’ve committed no violent crimes without at the same time, incurring the loss of federal money. You were vindicated by a recent court decision.
As far as the missing $33M, some of your critics, cry, “Fraud.” Others claim that the City’s accounting system is an embarrassment. You gave, what I thought, was a reasonable response to the situation in a recent interview on Channel 6’s INSIDE EDITION. But the interview was on a Sunday morning when only political junkies like me are watching. Which leads me to some advice I’m about to offer you with all due immodesty.
In your first term as Mayor, I sense a lack of clear communication with the voters. Example — accounting for the missing money. You need to speak more frequently and directly to the citizens. Personally, not through a spokesperson. In prime time.
There are other issues that need more explanation. The matter of Jay-Z and the MADE IN AMERICA CONCERT. Why the change of heart in moving the venue of the concert away from the Parkway? Did Jay-Z offer anything in return? Will you consider moving other public activities from the Parkway? The Parkway’s embattled residents need to know.
What assurances can you give those affected by their property tax reassessments that the system will treat them fairly? Why is it in our common interest to fund our public schools properly? And just as importantly, what are the assurances that those funds will be spent as intended?
Oh, and about the Rizzo statue. How about moving the statue to Marconi Plaza down here? Whether you or I agree on Frank Rizzo’s merits, the folks in South Philly revere him. South Philly is where his statue belongs. I hope you’ll find the time in the future to proudly march at the head of the Mummer’s Day and Columbus Day parades. South Philly thinks you’ve forgotten your roots.
P.S. My Uncle Nunzio thinks I have a bromance with you. I heartily deny it. Uncle seems irritated.