What Jim Kenney’s Last Day Says About His Mayoral Chances

He's got a broad base and a hot head.

A councilman no more.

A councilman no more.

After 23 years in City Council, Jim Kenney resigned today in order to launch his mayoral campaign. He is expected to make an official announcement next week.

His final day in Council was quintessential Kenney. He gave a goodbye speech that was humorous, raw, heartfelt and a little weird at times. He fought back tears. He did a slightly awkward impression of former Mayor Street. He said kind words about unsung City Council staffers and the arguably unsung Mayor Nutter. His colleagues praised him and made fun of him in roughly equal parts. It was all very entertaining — and revealing of his strengths and weaknesses as a soon-to-be mayoral candidate.

He’s getting a very late start.

“I want to tell you all here assembled, my colleagues: I love you, I really do,” a red-eyed Kenney said. It couldn’t have been clearer that Kenney truly treasured his job — the policy battles, the personal relationships, the characters. But maybe he loved it a little too much. He struggled publicly with the question of whether he should resign, and now that he finally has, he’s jumping into the race months after the consensus frontrunners, state Sen. Anthony Williams and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham. Can he catch up? Kenney starts at a relative disadvantage because the city’s campaign finance contribution limits are capped annually. That means Abraham and Williams could potentially cash two maxed-out checks from supporters, whereas Kenney will only get one.

He’s got a broad coalition. Can he keep it together?

Kenney’s speech included shout-outs to many of his constituencies: the LGBTQ community, progressives, rowhouse voters, cops and firefighters. These aren’t groups that traditionally play nice. As political strategist Mark Nevins told WHYY’s Dave Davies, “One of the advantages that Jim Kenney brings is that he has straddled two different worlds in Philadelphia politics. He is well-liked in the old-school blue collar Democratic circles, and also well-liked in the progressive Center City liberal circles.” This broad coalition could help Kenney with both with fundraising and gaining votes. It could also help him overcome the racial math currently working against him.

About that temper…

Before Kenney gave his goodbye speech, Councilman Mark Squilla joked about him on the Council floor, “When you see Jimmy’s face getting real, real red, you know soon enough his head was going to pop off.” The line got a lot of laughs. But it also speaks to something that could be either a huge benefit or a huge drawback for Kenney in the mayor’s race. He’s got a lot of passion and a little bit of a temper. Will voters see that as Kenney being “authentic“? Or could it ultimately lead to Kenney making gaffes and embarrassing mistakes? Already, Kenney has picked a fight with soon-to-be mayoral candidate Doug Oliver, a virtual unknown in the race so far, when he probably ought to focus on punching up at Williams and Abraham.

He actually has ideas.

Kenney’s speech was partly a goodbye to Council, and partly an introduction to his mayoral campaign. He talked about the benefits of decriminalizing marijuana. He talked about maintaining and building upon Nutter’s ethics reforms. He talked about fixing the city’s troubled schools. It sounds crazy, but simply discussing policy sets him apart in a mayor’s race that has, so far, been sorely lacking in ideas.