Jim Kenney: “Black Lives Do Matter”
Jim Kenney’s inaugural speech was short and sweet.
After being sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia at the Academy of Music on Monday morning, Kenney laid out an agenda in about 10 minutes. It was consistent with his message throughout the campaign: He wants to lower Philadelphia’s sky-high poverty rate, build community schools, provide ex-cons with a genuine second chance, and bolster neighborhood corridors.
“Our children should not have to get up before dawn and take three different buses to get to a good school,” Kenney said. “Parents working two or three jobs should not live in poverty.”
Throughout his inaugural address, Kenney hit hard on another campaign theme: making City Hall work for everyone. “City government should first and foremost deliver efficient, effective services to all Philadelphians,” he said, “regardless if they live in the Northeast or Southwest, if they’re a new transplant or if their family has lived here for generations.”
To what extent Kenney will be able to lift residents out of poverty or build community schools, especially as Pennsylvania enters its six month of a budget impasse, is an open question. It is clear, though, that Kenney will be leaning on nonprofits and businesses to achieve his goals.
“Government simply cannot do it alone,” he said. “We need our businesses, our nonprofits, our universities and everyday Philadelphians to come together and row in the same direction.”
Kenney, a son of a firefighter who was endorsed by the police union, said during his speech that it is critical to acknowledge that “black lives do matter.” At the same time, he said, the majority of police officers are “hardworking public servants.”
Kenney also stressed that he will pursue his agenda hand-in-hand with lawmakers. “We will be partners,” he said to his former colleagues on Council, where he served for 23 years.
Michael Nutter, Kenney’s predecessor, had a famously contentious relationship with legislators. On Monday, Council President Darrell Clarke signaled that he shares many of Kenney’s priorities. In a separate speech before Kenney, Clarke praised community schools and announced that lawmakers will soon unveil “significant” criminal justice reforms.
Kenney’s inaugural speech was short in comparison to those in the past, strengthening his image of a guy who wants to keep his nose to the grindstone.
“God bless you,” Kenney said at the end of his address. “And let’s go to work.”
Check out Kenney’s full speech below:
“First, thank you to my parents and my children for their support today and on all days.
Thank you also to the Council President and City Council for having me — and a special congratulations to our new members. I look forward to working together in the years to come.
And, finally, thank you to Governor Rendell, Mayor Street, Mayor Green, Mayor Goode, Mayor Nutter, Justice Dougherty and all our tremendous city workers. The collective decades of service to Philadelphia in this room today is truly awesome. So, please, everyone, join me in giving our city’s leaders and workers a round of applause
I asked some of my predecessors for advice on the address I’m about to deliver. And above all else, they asked that I keep it brief. Admittedly, that’s never really been a big problem for me. Back in February, I believe I sped-read what was supposed to be a fifteen-minute announcement speech in about 60 seconds
We actually held that first campaign speech in the Mayor’s Reception Room. I wanted to launch our campaign there because the first time I was ever in City Hall was when my mother took me to that very room to see my father promoted in the Fire Department.
From a pretty early age, I understood that Dad didn’t just work to support our family…he worked for all of Philadelphia’s families. And that meant that, sometimes, he was even going to be required to put other families’ before our own.
When you’re a child, that kind of sacrifice just seems normal. It’s your reality. But looking back, I see how extraordinary the sacrifice was that both my parents made. During my Dad’s long hours at the firehouse, my mother raised all four of us, while also working outside the home, so that we could attend parochial school.
When I went to the Prep, the Jesuit Brothers articulated my parents’ sacrifices as “magis,” which loosely translated means “doing more”.
At the end of the day, it was the Jesuits’ teaching and my parents’ selflessness that led me to this stage. Together, they taught me that you can never truly be happy unless you’re serving others
Over the last year, I articulated a lot of different ways that I believe our administration can serve the city: expanded pre-k, stronger neighborhood commercial corridors, community schools, community policing. And while those policies cover a wide range of issues, they all come from one fundamental truth: government functions properly when it’s accessible and accountable to the people.
I learned that truth in my earliest days working for the government. I started my political career working in constituent services. It was my job to help folks get their water turned back on, to change the alley lights, and to replace the basketball net at the rec center. And when you spend all day on the phone with people, you realize that when government just works as it’s supposed to, it can dramatically change people’s lives
For the one in four people in this city living in poverty, an effective public transportation system can make the difference of whether or not they can afford to go to a job interview. For a young family, affordable pre-K can make the difference of whether or not they save for college. For an immigrant entrepreneur, a City Commerce representative who can speak their native language can make the difference between a business that succeeds or fails.
Accordingly, the vision that will guide my administration is that City government should first and foremost deliver efficient, effective services to all Philadelphians; regardless if they live in the Northeast or Southwest; if they’re a new transplant or if their family has lived here for generations
That may sound like a “back to basics” approach. But, in reality, it is as large and as difficult a goal as has ever been announced on this stage.
Providing efficient and effective services means that our government has to be ethical and open with taxpayers about the work they pay us to do.
Providing efficient and effective services means educating all our children where they live. Our kids should not have to wake up before dawn and take three different buses to get to a good school. But in order to make quality schools in every neighborhood a reality, we will need the private sector and our non-profit partners to come together with the city to create community schools.
Providing efficient and effective services also means that everyone feels that they can walk the streets safely and with dignity. But in order to make that a reality in Philadelphia, we will have to all put aside our differences and acknowledge both: that black lives do matter, and that the overwhelming majority of our police are decent, hard working public servants who risk their lives every day. We just need to give them the tools to establish strong relationships with the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
Furthermore, providing efficient and effective services means that parents working two or three jobs will not live in poverty. But in order to create a living wage economy: our large, corporate banks will have to invest in our small, neighborhood businesses, our C-suite executives will have to hire our returning citizens, and we will have to stop pitting the growth of blue collar jobs at the Port against white collar jobs in our hospitals and tech firms – we have to do both.
To achieve this vision, we will all have to work together. Government simply cannot do it alone – we need our businesses, our non-profits, our universities and everyday Philadelphians to come together and row in the same direction.
That kind of unity may seem impossible to some, but there are so many Philadelphians who are already doing it. There are volunteer mentors who go to South Philly High School every day to keep our kids in school and off the streets. There are corporations that fund scholarships for our parochial students, like the Neumann Goretti’s Women Basketball Team, so that those young women could become not only national champions on the court, but also the first in their families to go to college. There are police officers who volunteer with PAL programs, so that more children’s first interaction with police officers are positive and fun. There are community activists who organize so that we are all forced to acknowledge and do something about injustice in our society. There are community development corporations that work with neighbors and developers to make sure that our city grows but doesn’t lose our oldest residents in the process.
So, to those Philadelphians and all the rest who have entrusted me with this great responsibility, thank you. I promise to serve you, to be accountable to you and, most importantly, to work with you. So we can make every Philadelphia neighborhood the best that it can be.”