Here’s Why Jim Kenney, Not Lynne Abraham, Got the NOW Endorsement

The Philly NOW chapter says Abraham didn't seek its support.

Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney

Lynne Abraham and Jim Kenney

Since it was incorporated in 1971, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women has never endorsed a mayoral candidate.

Until this week.

Philly NOW president Nina Ahmad said former City Councilman Jim Kenney got the nod because “he’s an independent thinker and supportive of women’s rights issues, and he takes up difficult issues if they’re the right thing to do.”

She also noted that Kenney sponsored legislation to hold a hearing on street harassment, is an advocate for immigrants rights, and wants to expand pre-K if elected mayor.

“His whole platform about pre-K is very, very intimately associated with women’s rights,” she said. “One, because you have so many women engaged in the profession of teaching … and two, when you’re creating good pre-K, what you’re doing is freeing up the worry that women have as mothers.”

Karen Bojar, a former president of Philly NOW, said the chapter did not endorse a mayoral candidate before Kenney because its board members were never able to agree on one.

NOW’s endorsement is a coup for Kenney and, of course, a huge loss for former District Attorney Lynne Abraham. Besides being the only woman in the Democratic primary race for mayor, Abraham is the most viable female mayoral candidate in the history of Philadelphia and probably one of the city’s biggest barrier-breaking women in general.

What’s surprising is that, according to Ahmad, the Abraham campaign did not seek Philly NOW’s endorsement. She said Abraham failed to respond to a request to fill out a candidates questionnaire.

“I reached out and said look, ‘We’ve endorsed you as a judge before,'” said Ahmad. “We never heard from her.”

Ahmad said it was a major factor in Philly NOW’s decision: “The main thing is she didn’t ask us.”

For Abraham’s part, she said her staff was not aware that there was a hard deadline for completing the questionnaire. She also said she never received a call from Philly NOW.

“The paperwork we have says ‘send in at earliest convenience,'” she said. “I’m not making excuses. If you don’t participate, you don’t participate, and that’s unfortunate.”

Abraham was clearly a little hurt by the Philly NOW’s pass, though.

“I believe my last 40 years of public service include all the issues that NOW is concerned about, including service providers, Women Against Abuse, shelters, Women Organized Against Rape, changing the constitution to prevent children from testifying against their abusers face-to-face,” she said. “I don’t think—no disrespect intended—that anybody’s record exceeds mine. And that’s why this is very surprising.”

Ahmad, though, said she is “quite certain” Abraham would not have received the endorsement even if she had sent in the questionnaire.

“We really applaud that she’s the first woman District Attorney, and she has been efficient and good in some respects,” she said. “However, she has a long record on many things, including the death penalty issue and not going after corrupt politicians.”

As District Attorney, Abraham was known for often seeking the death penalty in cases. In 1995, The New York Times dubbed her “the deadliest DA.”

Here’s what Abraham had to say when Citified asked her about the death penalty during an extensive Q&A earlier this year:

Citified: Has your view on the death penalty changed at all?

Abraham: The mayor doesn’t have death penalty issues. Let me just say two things. Number one, when I took the oath of office I swore to uphold, defend, and obey the constitution of the United States, the constitution of Pennsylvania, the laws of Pennsylvania. The death penalty is on that.

Second of all, the prosecutor does not impose the death penalty. What the prosecutor does is make a decision that this case does nor does not qualify under the circumstances of the law for the death penalty and leave it to the jury. Actually, what the prosecutor is saying to fellow Philadelphians is, “Look. We’re going to ask for the death penalty. They’re going to oppose it. We’re going to leave it up to you.” That’s what juries do. Juries decide whether there should or should not be a death penalty. I think that’s really the best.

… We haven’t really had a death penalty in Pennsylvania for, what, 25 or 30 years. There’s no death penalty in Pennsylvania. I think everybody gets all bent out of shape about it but there isn’t any. So what are we really talking about?

Ahmad added, “NOW is an organization for women, not of women, and we look to support feminist candidates of any gender.”