Jim Kenney: I’ll Keep Riding the Subway As Mayor

And four other fascinating moments from his first press conference as the mayor-elect.

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney. | Photo by Holly Otterbein

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney. | Photo by Holly Otterbein

Jim Kenney, a South Philadelphia native who vowed to expand pre-K on the campaign trail, held his first press conference as mayor-elect in a public elementary school at 12th and Federal streets. Very fitting, right? He talked about his transition team, and reiterated his plan to fight poverty, improve access to early education, and help ex-cons get back on their feet.

Events like these are weird. In the weeks after a big political race, we journalists go to every single one of them, hoping the newly elected official will unveil a new initiative or at least make an off-the-cuff remark that will, in some small way, indicate what type of leader they’ll be. No clue is too small to pore over.

At Andrew Jackson Elementary School, Kenney didn’t make any big announcements. He didn’t say who any of his top aides would be. He didn’t reveal who would be in charge of his transition team. But that doesn’t mean the event was devoid of news. Here are five fascinating moments from Kenney’s first post-election presser that we’re chewing on:

  • Kenney said he’ll likely announce many of his top picks for the administration before or around Thanksgiving. That’s pretty quick, particularly compared to what Michael Nutter did in 2008 — or rather, what he didn’t do. Nutter failed to fully put together his team until months after he was inaugurated. It’s clear that the Kenney campaign decided to vet candidates over the summer, instead of taking an extended victory lap. Check out Citified’s predictions for the future members of Kenney’s inner circle. One thing that seems certain is First Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross will be appointed the city’s next top cop. When asked if he would choose Ross on Wednesday, Kenney said he wouldn’t make any official announcements yet, but that reporters should “connect the dots.”
  • He said he’ll unveil the leaders and members of his transition committee tomorrow. They’ll be in charge of making sure the transition from the Nutter administration to Team Kenney is smooth. Citified’s best guess is that state Rep. Dwight Evans will be in charge of this committee. Kenney also launched his transition website KenneyForPhiladelphia.com on Wednesday, and encouraged residents to use it to provide input on the new administration and its policy goals. Kenney said his team will also hold town hall meetings, and release a report on their findings in January. “The policy that we create … will be based on ideas collected from every neighborhood, in addition to seeking out experts and stakeholders,” he said.
  • The number of reporters on Wednesday who asked Kenney questions about basic policy issues such as education and economic development was striking. That isn’t a knock on the media. Not at all. Rather, I think it’s indicative of how quiet Kenney’s campaign has been since the primary election. He didn’t announce any new initiatives over the summer, and some journalists have asked whether his campaign had a single coherent theme. That’s probably partly due to his focus on prepping for next year, instead of honing a message for a campaign that was already won.
  • Kenney said he’ll keep taking the subway as mayor. A reporter asked Kenney how he would stay in touch with Philadelphia residents. His response? “Ride the subway. I use public transit all the time.” What a crowd-pleasing, populist response! In contrast, Nutter commutes to City Hall in a dark SUV driven by a member of his security detail.
  • Kenney sounded most like himself when talking about the need to improve outcomes for ex-cons. Kenney has brought this issue up again and again in his campaign. And he was at his most passionate on Wednesday when speaking about job training for ex-cons, alternatives to bail for non-violent drug offenders, and Pope Francis’ visit to the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. “I was in tears in my apartment watching [Francis’ trip to the jail] on television,” he said. “To see that there’s still life and hope in those people’s souls. And those guys that made the chair for the pope? I mean, that’s really special stuff. They have skills and they are human beings. They are people. And we need to bring them back.”