Most Philly Voters Support a Soda Tax, Says Kenney Poll*

Fifty-seven percent of Philadelphia voters supported a soda tax last fall, according to a poll conducted for Jim Kenney’s mayoral campaign at the time. Forty percent opposed it.

That gives Kenney a head start in the public debate over the soda tax, right? Well, maybe. There are a few caveats to the results. For one thing, Kenney’s pollster asked voters whether they would back the tax as a way to reduce a financial shortfall in the school district. Earlier this month, Kenney proposed a soda tax to raise money for new initiatives, including universal pre-K, community schools and a major parks renovation — not to plug an education budget gap.

In other words, voters may respond very differently if they were asked today whether they endorse Kenney’s soda tax. But in what way? Would they turn their back on the tax, since Kenney didn’t propose it to fix a crisis? Or would they actually like it more, since Kenney wants to use it to pay for new, shiny programs? Read more »

Kenney Spokeswoman Retracts Statement Slamming Nutter Aide

Inset: Shelley Smith, via Twitter.

Inset: Shelley Smith, via Twitter.

You might remember that in January the Kenney administration — suddenly stuck defending a stop-and-frisk lawsuit it didn’t want to defend — blamed a top aide in the Nutter administration for withholding necessary information during the transition to the new mayor.

Never mind.

NewsWorks, which ran the original story featuring the accusation from Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt against former City Solicitor Shelley Smith, has now added a “clarification” to the story that amounts to a full-blown retraction by Hitt. Read more »

10 Things to Know About Kenney’s Ambitious, Expensive Budget Proposal

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

What a difference a couple months makes.

When Mayor Jim Kenney delivered his Inauguration Day speech in January, he announced few new or detailed plans. When he gives his first budget address Thursday morning, things will be completely different: He will lay out a vision that is bold and far-reaching.

The big details have already been revealed: Kenney wants to sell $300 million in bonds to completely redo the city’s parks, libraries and recreation centers. He also hopes to create a three-cents-per-ounce soda tax in order to help pay for expanded pre-K, community schools, a job creation plan, the debt service for his overhaul of public spaces, and much more. The tax would also help bolster the city’s underfunded pension system somewhat.

But there are lots of other fascinating and important things about Kenney’s five-year budget plan that haven’t been announced yet. Here are ten of them: Read more »

Kenney Is Officially Ending Brownouts

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Mayor Jim Kenney will officially put an end to one of his predecessor’s most controversial policies tomorrow.

A spokeswoman for Kenney says he will announce Thursday that he is eliminating the fire department’s policy — known as “brownouts” — of temporarily closing a handful of fire stations each day in rotating neighborhoods.

In 2010, former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration began using brownouts as a way, it said, to save almost $3 million a year amidst a budget crunch. Nutter insisted that brownouts did not compromise residents’ safety and called critics’ suggestions to the contrary “unnecessary hysteria.” Over the last 10 years, the number of annual fire deaths in Philadelphia has dropped by 77 percent. But the firefighters union fiercely argued that brownouts put citizens in harm’s way.

Kenney, the son of a firefighter, promised to end brownouts during his mayoral campaign. When the firefighters union endorsed Kenney last February, it cited his opposition to brownouts as one of the reasons it supported him. Read more »

Nutter Lands Yet Another Job, at a Bloomberg Initiative

Michael Nutter

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Former Mayor Michael Nutter has landed a new gig. This time, it’s as a 2016 senior fellow for What Works Cities.

Since leaving office last month, Nutter has also accepted positions at Columbia University, the Homeland Security Advisory Council and CNN.

What Works Cities is an initiative of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which was founded in 2015 by former three-term New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Its goal is to help cities use data and evidence to become more efficient and improve residents’ lives. “Nutter will serve as a national spokesperson for this work and an advisor to current mayors,” says a press release announcing the news. “He will also provide advice and strategic support to participating cities, focusing on taking action and community engagement efforts.” Read more »

Jim Kenney’s Team: Mostly White, Majority Women

Jim Kenney walks through City Hall on Inauguration Day with Deborah Mahler, his Deputy Mayor of Intergovernmental Affairs, and others. | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Last May, Jim Kenney won the mayoral primary in an eye-popping, record-breaking landslide, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in almost 40 years. His campaign’s secret? It built a racially and geographically diverse coalition, something pretty unprecedented in this oft-divided city.

South Philadelphians and Northwest Philadelphians, white working-class voters and prominent African-Americans, church leaders and gay rights activists — they all got behind Kenney. And Kenney promised that, when he got to City Hall, he would make his administration as diverse as the group of Philadelphians that put him there.

Has he lived up to that pledge?

In his first few weeks in office, Kenney named almost 80 high-level appointees.

A Citified analysis found that the majority of those picks — 55 percent — are women. In a city government where men have historically landed a large majority of high-paying jobs, that represents significant change. Kenney says appointing women was one of his priorities, and he has made a point of hiring senior women advisors throughout his career. As a City Councilman, his longtime chief-of-staff was Deborah Mahler. When he resigned to run for mayor, two “power women,” as the Daily News called them, played a key role in his mayoral campaign: manager Jane Slusser and PR pro Lauren Hitt. Now all three are in the top echelon of Kenney’s City Hall.

Millennials are also well represented in the upper ranks of Kenney’s administration: about 18 percent of his top picks are 35 or younger, and many are holding down big-time jobs. The city’s budget director, chief data officer, and director of emergency management are all 35 or under. So are Slusser and Hitt.

But when it comes to another factor — race and ethnicity — Kenney’s top appointees do not reflect the population of Philadelphia. Sixty-six percent of his high-level appointments are white, 22 percent are black, 8 percent are Latino, 3 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. Comparatively, Philadelphia’s citizenry is 36 percent white, 41 black, 14 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian and less than 1 percent Native American.

When I ask Kenney’s spokeswoman if he is satisfied with that mix, she’s blunt. “No,” says Hitt. “He’s not.” Read more »

Nutter Scores Another Job, As a CNN Commentator

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

Back in November, then-Mayor Michael Nutter told a reporter that he wanted to “do something really radical” when he left office: make “money for the first time ever.”

This should help Nutter bring home the bacon: CNN has hired him as a new commentator. Brian Stelter, the cable channel’s senior media correspondent, first reported the news.

Read more »

Kenney Appoints NYC Soda Fighter to Lead Health Department

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, left, speaks while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg looks on during a news conference in March 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The man who led Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war on sugar, salt and fat in New York City is coming to Philadelphia. Mayor Jim Kenney named him to lead the Department of Public Health on Monday morning.

Thomas A. Farley is known by critics for a brand of “dietary paternalism” that gets the government involved in the food and drink choices of its citizens — but is praised by admirers for helping New York dramatically increase the life expectancy of its residents.

Remember when New York tried to limit the size of sugary soda drinks that could be purchased? That was Farley’s brainchild.

“Dr. Farley’s ‘out-of-the-box approach’ to public health, along with his medical expertise and his experience running one of the largest health departments in the nation will make him a valuable asset to Philadelphia,” Kenney said in a statement announcing Farley’s appointment.  Read more »

Poor Philadelphians Are Leaving $100M in Tax Credits on the Table

Photo by Morgan Burke, Creative Commons license.

Photo by Morgan Burke, Creative Commons license.

Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the United States. There are about 395,000 people living below the poverty line here, including 126,000 children. The city’s poverty is brutal, far-reaching and the root cause of many problems.

And yet an estimated 40,000 eligible Philadelphians failed to apply for the biggest antipoverty program in the nation last year. It’s called the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, and it gives qualifying city residents an average refund of $2,400. Add it all up, and that means Philadelphians left almost $100 million on the table. One. Hundred. Million. Dollars. That’s money that could have not only helped the poor, but also given a jolt to the local economy.

The City of Philadelphia wants to fix this. On Friday morning, Mayor Jim Kenney will launch a campaign to boost participation in the EITC program. Could his administration finally keep Philadelphians from missing out on millions?  Read more »

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