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From ‘asinine’ to ‘resign,’ Philly’s potential mayoral candidates were on the front lines of ripping Jim Kenney this week

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 7/6/2022 Anna Orso, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker, center, and Council President Darrell L. Clarke take questions from reporters discussing the city's response to the ongoing gun violence at City Hall on Tuesday. © JOSE F. MORENO/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker, center, and Council President Darrell L. Clarke take questions from reporters discussing the city's response to the ongoing gun violence at City Hall on Tuesday.

After Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney stood in front of television cameras in the middle of the night and said he’s looking forward to the end of his term, the backlash was swift and harsh.

But out of 17 members of City Council, just two called for Kenney’s resignation: at-large Councilmembers Derek Green and Allan Domb — both of whom are considering running for mayor next year.

Green and Domb each insisted in interviews that they would have pleaded for Kenney to step down even if they didn’t hold office.

Their public calls were nonetheless the most extreme in a parade of attacks Tuesday against Kenney that was led largely by the very people who may run to replace him. No one has officially announced a run for mayor, but about a half-dozen Democrats are seen as likely to throw their hat in the ring.

The negative attention on Kenney this week also served as one of the first looks at how each candidate might handle a controversy that made national headlines.

Some went scorched earth. Some avoided calling for him to step down, knowing a mayoral resignation could result in chaos. Some thought it was all political theater and correctly guessed that Kenney, who leaves office in January 2024, would bristle at the suggestion he should leave sooner because of a moment of frustration.

Most still admonished him.

‘I’m not a robot’: Philly mayor says he was frustrated and emotional during controversial comments

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart fired the opening shot at 7:37 a.m. Tuesday. It was about seven hours after Kenney stood outside a hospital — where two police officers were being treated for injuries sustained by gunfire at the city’s Independence Day celebration — and told reporters: “I’ll be happy when I’m not here, when I’m not mayor.”

Rhynhart, a frequent Kenney critic who has repeatedly said his administration’s response to gun violence lacks urgency and transparency, tweeted a link to a news article about Kenney’s comments and wrote: “This is the most irresponsible statement.”

“Our city needs leadership, not someone who doesn’t want the job,” she wrote. “We deserve better.”

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Just before 9 a.m., Green — generally a technocrat who avoids dramatic rhetoric — tweeted: “We are all exhausted by the level of gun violence in our City. However, our City needs someone now with the passion and vision to lead us forward. Resign.”

“He said in his statement he wants to be happy,” Green said in an interview. “This is his opportunity to be happy again.”

An hour later, Domb wrote on Twitter: “Philadelphia is in a crisis and needs a mayor who wants the job and all its responsibilities. It is beyond time for @PhillyMayor to resign for the good of the city and its residents.”

Later, in an interview, Domb said the mayor’s remarks amounted to an abdication of duty.

“For the mayor to say that,” he said, “he’s not holding up his sworn oath to hold the office.”

By 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Domb had made the rounds on the local media circuit and then stepped into City Council chambers as leaders were holding a news conference. He appeared a few minutes late and didn’t speak, instead shuffling in behind Majority Leader Cherelle Parker — awkwardly enough, another potential mayoral candidate — who lambasted Kenney from the lectern.

Parker, who in 2019 stood with Kenney at his reelection night party, on Tuesday was animated alongside Council President Darrell L. Clarke, and she slammed the mayor’s comments as “asinine” but did not call for his resignation.

“I didn’t tweet about it, I didn’t post it,” she said, quietly drawing a distinction between herself and other mayoral hopefuls. “I picked up the telephone, and I called him. And I told him that if you can feel this way, imagine how Philadelphians who don’t have the ability to check out feel on a daily basis.”

A few hours later, she tweeted a video of her remarks.

Councilmember Helen Gym, the progressive firebrand also considered a likely candidate for mayor, blasted Kenney in a statement Tuesday morning and in a tweet that said, in part: “Put your big boy pants on and get to work!”

But she also avoided calling for him to give up his job and instead focused her statement on where she sees his administration failing in its efforts to slow the record-breaking pace of shootings. Gym said the city must expand antiviolence programs, employ “an all-out coordinated strategy,” and provide “aggressive” interventions to change conditions for those most likely to shoot or be shot.

She added: “Jim Kenney may be defeated but this city won’t be.”

Perhaps the most muted of responses came from Councilmember Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, who sent a series of tweets Tuesday morning about the July 4 incident but didn’t address Kenney’s comments specifically.

She wrote that she was on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Monday and saw “many families relaxing together and having a good time,” then wrote: “Our city leaders must stand with our residents and make sure we have public safety for all — from Logan Square to Norris Square. We cannot give in to fear or hopelessness.”

In an interview, she said the mayor’s comments were “inappropriate,” but she wanted to keep the public’s focus on the good things that happened Monday at a celebratory event.

As for why she didn’t echo calls for the mayor to quit? “We don’t need any more chaos.”

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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