Lynne Abraham Goes Nuclear on Jim Kenney

What their spat over pensions is all about.

Associated Press | Matt Rourke.

Associated Press | Matt Rourke.

At Thursday’s mayoral forum, the first of the 2015 election season, Lynne Abraham touched off what might be the first real fight of this campaign when she (metaphorically) slugged Jim Kenney for championing a bill back in 2007 that commits the city’s beleaguered pension fund to pay out bigger sums to retirees when the fund’s investments outperforms its goals.

Then-Mayor John Street opposed it, saying the pension fund couldn’t afford it. But the bill passed anyway, owing largely to big union support. So it’s a legit issue to attack Kenney over, and that’s exactly what Abraham did at Thursday’s forum, saying of the legislation: “I’d ignore it or seek to override it or in some way to remove it.”

Kenney returned fire immediately, reminding the world that Lynne Abraham has done pretty well by the city’s pension fund herself, collecting a juicy DROP payment. He didn’t mention the figure, but it’s pretty big: $370,361.

The next day, Kenney’s campaign sharpened the critique into, basically: How dare Abraham cash that check and begrudge widows of heroic firefighters a modest cost of living increase?

Well that set off Abraham’s camp. They sent out a statement a short while ago that ratcheted up the rhetoric way past 10. Kenney is “double dipping,” he spends his time “pandering for votes,” he made an “appalling mistake with this feeble attempt to tarnish Lynne Abraham’s credibility with police and firefighters” and “Kenney must fear Lynne’s strength in these two municipal communities to pull this futile, ill-advised scheme.”

You get the idea.

Citified is not going to become a clearinghouse for candidate attacks on one another. So don’t expect a lot of this from us in the weeks to come. But this one seemed worth highlighting not just because it’s the first real scrum of the campaign, but because of who’s involved, and who’s not.

Right now, Anthony Williams is a corner chuckling to himself. Abraham and Kenney, Williams’ chief rivals, are trained on one another and not him. And that makes sense. For either Kenney or Abraham to win, they’ve got to knock the other down to minor candidate status. Both positively need to lock up a big share of the white rowhome vote to have a chance at knocking off Williams. And when you talk about pensions, firefighters and cops, well that’s a dispute that catches the attention of just those sorts of voters.

The full statements from both candidates are below.

Kenney campaign, in a fundraising appeal:


Today, former DA Lynne Abraham showed her true colors in the first candidates’ forum. When asked about our city’s pension crisis, she blamed Jim for sponsoring legislation that will soon give our city’s retired firefighters and police their first cost of living increase in seven years.

While Lynne took a $371,000 DROP payment and receives an automatic cost of living adjustment as part of her six-figure city pension, she doesn’t think those who put their lives on the line every day for Philadelphia deserve one as well.

Denying retired firefighters and police officers their first cost of living adjustment in seven years to save one percent of our pension fund isn’t fiscally responsible—it’s immoral.

Kathleen Redmond, a firefighter’s widow from Willow Grove, said it best in today’s Inquirer:

“Abraham may accuse Kenney of pandering and being fiscally irresponsible, but to the families who sacrificed for the city and watched politicians collect ever-increasing pensions, Kenney’s budget priorities appear very much in order.”

As a City Councilman for 23 years, Jim knows the only way to tackle difficult problems like the pension crisis is to work together and fight for the underdog. As the chief sponsor of the rainy day fund bill, Jim lead his colleagues in making sure our city is financially prepared for any future economic crisis. And when he saw DROP threatening the health of our pension system, he was the sole vote against it.

Please pitch in what you can right now if you want a mayor who will watch out for the underdog.

Abraham campaign, in a statement to the press:

For Lynne’s opponent, Jim Kenney, to falsely and deliberately misrepresent what Lynne Abraham said at a televised, audio and video-recorded debate on February 19, 2015, shows Kenney’ desperation and fear of Lynne‘s popularity. Lynne stood behind Mayor Michael Nutter’s statements that any attempt to award pension bonuses to everyone receiving a city pension, at a time when our pension fund is underwater by about five billion dollars, threatens the entire pension house of cards. Any money going to pensioners, just because the stock pickers did a better job in one year than in previous years, threatens not only those receiving pensions now, but also city employees who hope and expect their bargained for pensions to be there for them in the future.

Outside of their families, no one knows more about the deaths and injuries of police officers and firefighters than Lynne Abraham. For the better part of nineteen years as District Attorney, Lynne investigated every death and injury of these brave public servants and prosecuted the guilty parties. Her investigations included the deaths of Captain John Redmond and Firefighter Vencent Acey, as well as the deaths of Captain John Taylor and Firefighter Rey Rubio.

Kenney’s attack is ironic.

Jim Kenney not only qualifies for a pension from the city, he was also getting a salary from Vitetta, a company he worked for while he was collecting his $165 thousand a year city council salary and accruing pension benefits. Not only is that double-dipping, it may qualify for triple- dip status. While during that same time, Vitetta also gained lucrative City contracts. His yearly salaries further included a paid board position with Independence Blue Cross, which also has contracts with the City.

Rather than taking the time to tackle difficult problems, Kenney only makes them worse by spending his time pandering for votes. Far from making the city safer for retirees, he makes things worse by seeking to add to our serious pension deficits. Lynne supports pension benefits bargained for at the collective bargaining table and respects all bargained-for pension rights.

Kenney has made an appalling mistake with this feeble attempt to tarnish Lynne Abraham’s credibility with police and firefighters. They know better. Philadelphia knows better. Already this is being seen as the obvious trick that is it. Kenney must fear Lynne’s strength in these two municipal communities to pull this futile, ill-advised scheme.