How Jim Kenney’s Big Soda Tax Victory Is Upending City Hall

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

For years, Philadelphians saw government dysfunction everywhere they looked. In City Hall, former Mayor Michael Nutter was so impotent that he couldn’t persuade a single Council member to introduce his bill to privatize Philadelphia Gas Works, let alone hold a hearing on the plan or (gasp!) approve it. And in Harrisburg, it took Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican legislature nine months to do their most basic job, i.e. agree on a budget.

It’s almost sadly poetic: The same place where American democracy was born was where you could best see it falling apart.

That’s why it’s so extraordinary that Philadelphia City Council is expected to pass a soda tax this week in order to fund Mayor Jim Kenney’s major initiatives: expanded pre-K, community schools, and an overhaul of the parks system. The soda industry spent nearly $3 million to defeat Kenney’s proposed levy on soda, flooding the airwaves with anti-tax ads and stuffing politicians’ campaign coffers with cash. Council President Darrell Clarke did Kenney no favors throughout the last few months, calling a 3-cents-per-ounce tax “ridiculous” and “divisive.” History was also working against Kenney: Council had twice crushed plans by Nutter to create a soda tax, and the beverage lobby had a 45-1 record of killing proposed soda taxes throughout the country.

But in the end, Council hammered out a landmark deal with the Kenney administration, giving preliminary approval to a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks and diet soda. The fact that Kenney took on one of the strongest lobbies in the United States and won — and that the once all-powerful Clarke was, at times, working against him — shows that the mayor is a skilled politician who has enough votes on Council to pass ambitious, controversial proposals. This means Kenney could potentially get a lot done over the next three-and-a-half years. His victory also serves as a reminder of the unsavory things that are sometimes required to make government work: arm-twisting, special interests, and, of course, lots of money. Read more »

The Incredible Political Insurgency of Chris Rabb

Photo via Mary B Photography

Chris Rabb | Photo via Mary B Photography

How did Chris Rabb do it?

In a city where political machines crush challengers like grapes, the 46-year-old adjunct professor defeated an establishment-backed incumbent in the April primary. Rabb’s opponent in the race for Pennsylvania’s 200th House District seat — state Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis — was endorsed by Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Ed Rendell and Mayor Jim Kenney. Even more importantly, Cook-Artis is a member of the mighty Northwest Coalition, a group of African-American politicians that has racked up electoral win after electoral win in the last few years.

Philadelphia magazine talked with Rabb about how he overcame the odds, how other political insurgents can do the same, and what he’ll pursue in office if he wins the general election against Republican Latryse McDowell as expected. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read more »

The No-Bullshit Guide: 2016 Election’s Biggest Winners and Losers

From L to R:

Clockwise: Mayor Jim Kenney, state Rep. Dwight Evans, Councilman Darrell Clarke, U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman and labor leader John Dougherty.

Oftentimes, elections feel like they’ve been decided by the powers that be before they’re even over. The 2016 primary was different: It was full of genuine nail-biters. At 8:30 p.m., I headed to state Rep. Dwight Evans’ Election Night party at Temptations on Chelten Avenue, and everyone around me spent the first hour-and-a-half of the celebration hunched over, obsessively refreshing the Department of State’s website on their phones as votes from different areas were counted. They weren’t just tracking Evans’ bid for the 2nd Congressional District seat — they were also following the Attorney General’s race, which looked like it might be won by Stephen Zappala at the beginning of the evening, as well as several close state legislative races.

By the end of the night, a seemingly unstoppable labor leader had lost, along with an indicted congressman, a bajillion-year incumbent, and a state representative who is part of one of the most powerful political machines in the city. What a wild election.

The Winners

1. The Northwest Coalition

The Northwest Coalition, led by Evans and former Councilwoman Marian Tasco, helped put Jim Kenney in the mayor’s office last year. The alliance was also instrumental in electing Derek Green and Cherelle Parker to Council. Now, one of its own is going to Congress — Evans defeated U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District race yesterday. (Yes, Evans will technically face Republican James Jones in the fall. But, with the district being overwhelmingly Democratic, we all know how this movie ends.) Another sign of the organization’s rising power: Relish, the Northwest Coalition’s Election Day lunch spot, drew bigger crowds yesterday than Famous 4th Street Deli.

What does this mean for the future? Good things for Parker, potentially, if she runs for mayor in 2023. It could also mean bad things for District Attorney Seth Williams if the Northwest Coalition decides to support a challenger when he runs for reelection next year. (Tasco isn’t a fan of Williams’.) It’s worth noting, however, that the coalition did suffer one loss yesterday, which proves it isn’t indestructible: state Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis, its pick in the 200th House District race, was not reelected. Read more »

Relish Was Hot on Election Day — While Famous 4th Street Deli Was a Ghost Town

State Rep. Dwight Evans, Councilman Derek Green, former Mayor John Street, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Tom Wolf were among the many politicos at Relish today.

State Rep. Dwight Evans, Councilman Derek Green, former Mayor John Street, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Tom Wolf were among the many politicos at Relish today.

This year, Josh Shapiro didn’t go to the power crowd’s longtime Election Day lunch hangout Famous 4th Street Deli. Instead, the Democratic frontrunner in the Attorney General’s race dined at the other, newer power lunch spot in Philadelphia: Relish, a Southern restaurant in West Oak Lane that serves immaculate fried chicken and mac and cheese. “This is where real folks come to enjoy themselves in the middle of a busy Election Day,” Shapiro told me, as he worked the room in a crisp blue jacket and rimless glasses. “I enjoy the camaraderie here.”

Shapiro wasn’t alone. While the Famous 4th Street Deli managed to attract only a small crowd Tuesday, Relish was awash with politicos. Gov. Tom Wolf was there. So was Mayor Jim Kenney, who appeared on a live show on 900AM WURD that was broadcast  from the restaurant. U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty was there, too. Ditto former Mayor John Street, District Attorney Seth Williams, Pennsylvania Democratic Party leader Marcel Groen, state Sen. Daylin Leach, state Sen. candidate Sharif Street, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Councilman Derek Green, Laborers business manager Ryan Boyer and … the list goes on.

Is Relish officially the new place for politicos to see and be seen on Election Day? “This place is taking over,” said Leach, who was noshing with Aren Platt, a political advisor to Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. “I grew up on Jewish deli food, so Famous always has a special place in my heart. But I gotta tell you, this place is terrific. We shall see how this rivalry plays out over the next few years.”

State Rep. Dwight Evans built Relish into the hot spot that it is today. He and former Councilwoman Marian Tasco are the leaders of the Northwest Coalition, a powerful alliance of black politicians that gained a great deal of political clout when it decisively endorsed Kenney in the mayor’s race. The fact that pols swarmed Relish, as Famous 4th Street Deli looked like a ghost town, underlines how much power the coalition has gained in the last year. Read more »

Insider: Black Pols Will “Rue the Day” They Backed Kenney

The Kenney coalition. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

The Kenney coalition. | Photo by Jeff Fusco.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider. McCalla is a policy consultant who has provided pro bono advice to mayoral candidate Anthony H. Williams, amongst other candidates this election cycle.) 

Over the last several weeks, culminating in the Tuesday election of Jim Kenney as the Democratic nominee for mayor, an historic shift was taking place amongst African American pols that creates a new reality in city politics.

Black political empowerment, before it went from a movement to a slogan, was fiercely predicated on cultural affinity. That is to say, like most Philadelphians, Blacks were going to “vote race.” Through the 1960’s, only three or four black elected officials — Congressman Robert Nix, Republican Councilwoman Ethel Allen, Councilmen Earl Vann and Tom McIntosh — made it into office in Philadelphia and not all at once. Political impotence combined with the oscillating indifference/hostility of City Hall, forged the determination to grow in power as the black population grew. Read more »

The Brief: Are the Mayoral Candidates’ School Plans “Bogus”?

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

1. Mayor Michael Nutter said the candidates running to replace him have proposed “bogus” school funding plans.

The gist: Nutter made the attack while touring a city school with Gov. Tom Wolf last week. He said, according to the Inquirer, “You cannot run around this school, shake hands with students, take pictures, read to second graders, talk to middle schoolers, inspire high school students, and then when you’re back at your office comfortably not put forward the money that they need to educate their students. Let’s cut the phoniness. Let’s be serious about educating kids.”

The six Democratic mayoral candidates oppose Nutter’s proposal to raise an extra $105 million for the city’s schools by increasing property taxes by 9 percent. They’ve offered other plans to boost funding, such as hiking the liquor-by-the-drink tax and selling tax liens.

Read more »

Insider: Why Would Dwight Evans & Marian Tasco Endorse a White Mayoral Candidate?

State Rep. Dwight Evans

State Rep. Dwight Evans

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

Jim Kenney’s Monday endorsement by West Oak Lane Democratic pols is worthy of the comedic device inelegantly known as a “spit take,” where a comic is drinking water and spits it out in sudden reaction to startling news. African American pols don’t make a habit of not endorsing an African American mayoral candidate, assuming one is handy. That’s not just a matter of cultural affinity, but of political survival. A politician risks both credibility and reelection by endorsing a candidate who won’t resonate with their voters, when there’s an alternative who can.

In a city brimming with risk-averse pols, why would a cabal of savvy office holders and ward leaders so grandly buck the likelihood that State Senator Anthony Williams will garner an impressive majority of the African American Democratic vote? Why aren’t they concerned their decision to back Kenney will deeply annoy the fellow—Williams—with a greater chance of becoming mayor? Read more »

Jim Kenney’s Big Move to Win Black Support

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

On Monday, former City Councilman Jim Kenney landed what could turn out to be the most critical endorsement in the Philadelphia mayor’s race: Council members Marian Tasco and Cindy Bass, as well as state Reps. Dwight Evans, Cherelle Parker and Stephen Kinsey, announced they are backing him. So are a number of ward leaders from Northwest Philadelphia.

The endorsement of a white candidate by several prominent black politicians matters, and you should pay attention to it.

Here’s why:

Read more »

The Council At-Large Race Just Got More Crowded

Derek Green

Derek Green | Photo caption: Thomas Amico

We told you the City Council At-Large race would get more crowded after Jim Kenney resigned from Council to run for mayor.

Derek Green, a top aide for City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, says he is running for Council At-Large as a Democrat. He is planning to resign from Tasco’s office Friday, and formally kick off his campaign next Tuesday.

“I am running because I have experience in getting things done,” says Green, “and a vision for a better city.”

Read more »

Jim Kenney Will Upend the City Council Race, Too

Philadelphia City Council  | Photo Credit: City Council's Flickr page

Philadelphia City Council | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr page

The Philadelphia mayor’s race has changed overnight because Councilman Jim Kenney is soon jumping into it. So, too, has the Democratic City Council at-large race.

Philadelphians will now elect at least one new at-large Council member this year because Kenney must step down from his seat to run for mayor. With five Democratic at-large incumbents in the race previously, that was anything but guaranteed. (In this Democratic-dominated town, five of the city’s seven at-large seats are inevitably won by Democrats every four years.) Assuming that Council President Darrell Clarke doesn’t call for a special election to replace Kenney, here’s how his departure from the at-large race changes the game:

Read more »

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