Cardella: The Mayor’s Gaffe

To fully understand Mayor Jim Kenney’s remarks after the July 4 shooting on the Parkway, we need to first check out a couple of definitions. Kenney committed a “gaffe.” A gaffe can be defined as an unintentional act or remark that causes embarrassment to its originator. In this case, the mayor. And then there’s the political gaffe.

Journalist Michael Kinsley defined a political gaffe as one where a politician reveals some truth that he or she did not intend to reveal. Kenney’s gaffe was stunning. Here’s the mayor’s quote to the media following the Parkway shooting.

“There’s not an event or a day where I don’t lay on my back at night, looking at the ceiling and worry about stuff,” he said. “So everything we have in the city over the last seven years, I worry about. I don’t enjoy Fourth of July. I didn’t enjoy the (2016) Democratic National Convention. I didn’t enjoy the NFL Draft. I’m waiting for something to happen all the time. So I’ll be happy when I’m not here — when I’m not mayor, and I can enjoy some stuff.”

In response to a question from a reporter asking Kenney to confirm that he’s looking forward to not being mayor, Kenney said, “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am.” The mayor not only made a political gaffe, he confirmed it. It was to no avail that an uncomfortable-looking Kenney attempted to walk back his words the next day. His words were greeted with understandable outrage. Those who hope to succeed him in office practically stumbled over themselves to criticize him.

If Kenney’s words were uttered in despair by the CEO of Pepsi-Cola, at the very least he or she would be placed on a leave of absence and given a referral to see the company psychologist. I think it’s fair to say that the mayor’s words reveal the same depressed state in which all of us live these days. No matter where we are or what time of day, we look over our shoulders fearful of being caught in the crossfire. It shouldn’t be news to Kenney that the enjoyment of public life in Philadelphia has all but disappeared. Memo to the mayor: If things don’t improve significantly in the next year, you won’t be able to enjoy your favorite events even after you retire. The citizens of Philadelphia are a basket case right now. Pushed to the breaking point by the incredible rise in gun violence. We voice our frustrations and fears. But here’s the thing — It’s way different when the mayor does that.

No matter how compassionate we want to be about the mayor’s doldrums, he’s the freakin’ mayor! Whether he intended it or not, his original statement implies that he’s flat-out quit. And there’s still a year or so left on his second term. It sounds to most of us, even those of us who supported him at the polls, that he’s run out of ideas — that he’s worn-out. Exhausted. But we need a mayor. Now more than ever, we need someone to lead us. Sure, it’s the toughest of times being a mayor. Hell, it’s possible this city is no longer governable. Strangled by rural legislators whose hostility to Philadelphia is legendary. Hamstrung by Congress and a right-wing Supreme Court. But we can’t be led by a leader whose depression no longer allows him to lead. During Kenney’s first campaign for mayor, I wrote an article in this newspaper titled THE PASSION OF JIM KENNEY. Kenney used the piece in some of his TV campaign ads. That passion is what led to the mayor’s successful fight for a sweet-beverage tax that has helped fund pre-K and the renovation of aging recreation centers such as Vare in South Philly.

Kenney’s embroilment in the statue controversies — the Columbus statue being packaged in a plain wrapper as if it were obscene and the brouhaha over the Rizzo statue that mightily offended many South Philadelphians – at times has overshadowed his positive accomplishments. Things he got done because of his passion for this city. But that passion seems to have been displaced by depression.

It’s no disgrace to be depressed by the tragic chain of events that have beset Philadelphia and other large cities across America. But a political leader can’t survive if he has lost the psychological energy to lead. I don’t think the mayor convinced too many people by his walk-back statement that all is well with him. So where does that leave this city?

The City Charter provides that if a mayor resigns in their last year in office, his or her successor will be chosen by a vote of City Council. Until the position is actually filled, the president of City Council will act as mayor until the regularly scheduled election is held.

I believe Jim Kenney has to look within himself. Does he believe that he can summon the drive and energy to finish out his term? Despite what his critics might say, Jim Kenney is a good public servant with the interest of his constituents at heart. His situation should be viewed with the same compassion we reserve for a loved one in trouble. Things in the city will most likely not get better going forward. In Pennsylvania’s cities, the tools a mayor has at his disposal are severely limited. That’s likely not going to change. The politicians lusting for Kenney’s job will try to make hay.

Jim Kenney has apparently decided not to resign. Now it is up to him to provide the leadership this city both deserves and needs. And if that proves not possible, he should place Philadelphia above his own political career.

And resign.