Did Mayor Kenney Do a Good Job Handling the Blizzard?

The administration says it is "very happy" with its response. But residents say many small streets remain blanketed in snow.

L to R: Freeland Avenue in Manayunk as of Sunday, and Mayor Kenney on Inauguration Day. | Photos by Tim Haas and Jeff Fusco

L to R: Freeland Avenue in Northwest Philly as of Sunday, and Mayor Kenney on Inauguration Day. | Photos by Tim Haas and Jeff Fusco

As a candidate, Mayor Jim Kenney promised to ensure that “every neighborhood matters” in Philadelphia. His campaign motto was, in part, a not-so-subtle reference to his predecessor: Many politicos (and residents) believe former Mayor Michael Nutter focused more on Center City than other neighborhoods during his time in office.

One of the more straightforward ways for an administration to show that it values every neighborhood is to quickly plow small streets throughout the city — not just main thoroughfares downtown — after a blizzard. Kenney, acutely aware of this fact, said at a Saturday news conference in the midst of Winter Storm Jonas, “I spent most of my life in South Philadelphia. And up until the Street administration, it never got plowed.'” He vowed to “get to the small streets.”

Has the Kenney administration done that? Without conducting a massive survey of roads throughout the city, it’s impossible to know for certain how many small streets are currently free of snow. But it’s clear many residents think the city hasn’t done a great job. Philadelphians are kvetching on social media that small streets in Northwest Philly, South Philly and other areas have barely been plowed, if at all. They’re kvetching to the regular old media, too. “Some small side streets in South Philadelphia still looked Sunday as if they could have been scenes from Alaska or the Arctic,” wrote the Daily News. “Residents complained that the city had cleared bigger streets like Broad, Chestnut and Spring Garden — but that smaller streets had been untouched.” Even Kenney’s own boyhood street in South Philly still hadn’t been plowed as of Monday, the Inquirer reported.

Blogger Duncan Black, a/k/a Atrios, wrote that the city’s longstanding policy of plowing major roads before smaller ones is an example of how it prioritizes the needs of Center City and the suburbs over those of neighborhood residents. “Sure snow removal resources (both in terms of money and timeliness) are limited, but focusing only on the major thoroughfares tends to help people who are getting in and of the city more than it helps people who live in the city,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong. Major thoroughfares are major thoroughfares after all, but it is just another way that public policy has been focused on the main business district and on suburban commuters rather than people in the neighborhoods.”

As of Monday, 1,800 miles of roads had been plowed, according to the Kenney administration. The city’s goal is to have all thoroughfares — small ones very much included — cleared by Wednesday. “We’re getting to your streets,” Kenney said at a news conference. “We have to take care of our big ones first to get everything rolling. That affects the most number of people.”

Of course, it’s a tradition for Philadelphians to complain about their streets not getting plowed, and a mayor has lots of things to worry about in a snowstorm besides clearing roads. “We’re very happy with our response to date,” said Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Kenney. “This was a serious storm, the city’s first blizzard in years and the fourth largest snow accumulation in history, and we made it through without any major incidents and minor power outages. That’s no small feat.”

No small feat indeed. There were far fewer power outages during Winter Storm Jonas than during the ice storm of 2014; also, officials said there were no storm-related deaths this weekend. When Philadelphians think back on how Kenney handled his first snowstorm, they should keep that in mind. Still, some residents are unlikely to remember the Blizzard of 2016 as a time that Kenney kept his campaign promise to ensure that every neighborhood matters in the eyes of City Hall.