The Brief: 3 Reasons Jim Kenney Crushed His Opponents

Plus, why two incumbents lost their Council seats and Kenyatta Johnson held onto his.

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Jim Kenney won Philadelphia’s mayoral race by the biggest margin in modern history.

The gist: The former City Councilman defied the odds — he got off to a late start, he had “racial math” working against him, and his chief opponent’s super PAC allies dwarfed his in fundraising — and cinched the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday. It wasn’t even close. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, he trounced his primary foe, state Sen. Anthony Williams, by 32 percentage points. That’s bigger than any lead in a competitive mayoral primary since at least 1979.

Why it matters: How did he do it? Read Citified’s full analysis here. Most pundits agree that one reason is that Kenney simply ran a solid campaign, while his opponents spiraled out of control. NewsWorks’ Dave Davies writes:

Kenney had a great team, mostly assembled by Ken Trujillo, the candidate who suddenly bailed for personal reasons in January. The mix was there; just add money and stir. Media consultant Ken Snyder, campaign manager Jane Slusser, finance director Vaughn Ross, spokeswoman Lauren Hitt (is that a great name for a flak or what?), and policy director Jim Engler performed extraordinarily well. Kenney was a disciplined, focused candidate. He didn’t sound like Jack Kennedy on the stump, but he gave clear, direct, answers to questions, kept his notorious temper in check, and calmly repudiated past positions that were harmful to his message.

Kenney also has his opponents to thank for his victory, particularly Williams. The Inquirer’s Chris Brennan explains:

The Williams campaign floundered and flailed to its end, undone by an inability to counter Kenney and fatally flawed assumptions about the racial math of the election.

Kenney is white. Williams is African American.

Late in the primary, Williams supporters pitched it as a referendum on civil rights, asking black voters if they wanted to relinquish their hard-won political power in the city.

Voters didn’t buy it.

Finally, Kenney won partly because he locked down key endorsements by black political leaders from Northwest Philadelphia, including state Rep. Dwight Evans and Councilwoman Marian Tasco. Via Citified:

Endorsements are a dime a dozen in political campaigns. But this one — amplified by extensive, effective TV advertisements paid for by the union-powered Super PAC backing Kenney — made a clear difference.

“A guy walked up to me in a supermarket, a black guy, and he said, ‘Can I trust Kenney?’ I told him, ‘I trust him.’ He said, ‘that’s enough for me,’” Evans said. Asked if the endorsement gave black voters permission to look at Kenney, instead of Williams, Evans said: “You got it. You got it.”

2. Voters showed the door to two incumbent at-large Council members, including the son of Philly’s first black mayor.

The gist: The Democratic City Council At-Large race turned out to be fascinating. Council members Ed Neilson and W. Wilson Goode, Jr., the son of former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, Sr., lost. Incumbents Blondell Reynolds Brown and Bill Greenlee held onto their seats. And three formidable challengers — Center City “condo king” Allan Domb, former Council aide Derek Green and, it appears (though the votes are still being counted and it’s very close), education activist Helen Gym — won.

Why it matters: Neilson was long seen as a weak candidate because he isn’t a full-fledged incumbent. He just got onto Council last year after winning a special election to replace former Councilman Bill Green. But Goode, with the family name and a history of fighting for low-wage workers, seemed indestructible.

We’ll analyze these results more in the days to come, but it appears that self-funded candidate Domb was successful because he not only aired a TV ad campaign, but also played the street game well, getting onto a number of ward leaders’ sample ballots (which, we’re told, he paid for). Green, meanwhile, seems to have been aided by Team Kenney: Green was formerly a top aide for Tasco, who pushed out the vote for Kenney along with other pols in Northwest Philly. Green also had the top position on the ballot. And Gym looks to have run an impressive get-out-the-vote operation. Her people were everywhere Tuesday.

3. In the 2nd Council District race, incumbent Kenyatta Johnson walloped developer Ori Feibush.

The gist: Victor Fiorillo writes for Citified that this brings to a close “the most drawn-out and negative race that this primary season has seen. With 97 percent of the polls reporting, Johnson is on track for a decisive victory with 63 percent of the vote.” Johnson will not face a Republican opponent this fall.

Why it matters: Again, we’ll put more thought to this in the days ahead. But our initial take is that Johnson ran a good campaign, stayed cool in the face of Feibush’s attacks, and aired a well-done TV ad. Feibush’s ads were a little rough around the edges — he wasn’t a great narrator, and they looked low-budget — and he started out with very little name recognition. It’s not easy going up against an incumbent.