Jim Kenney’s Team: Mostly White, Majority Women

A Citified analysis finds the new mayor's top appointees are young and 55 percent female, but not as racially diverse as he hoped.

Jim Kenney walks through City Hall on Inauguration Day with Deborah Mahler, his Deputy Mayor of Intergovernmental Affairs, and others. | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Last May, Jim Kenney won the mayoral primary in an eye-popping, record-breaking landslide, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in almost 40 years. His campaign’s secret? It built a racially and geographically diverse coalition, something pretty unprecedented in this oft-divided city.

South Philadelphians and Northwest Philadelphians, white working-class voters and prominent African-Americans, church leaders and gay rights activists — they all got behind Kenney. And Kenney promised that, when he got to City Hall, he would make his administration as diverse as the group of Philadelphians that put him there.

Has he lived up to that pledge?

In his first few weeks in office, Kenney named almost 80 high-level appointees.

A Citified analysis found that the majority of those picks — 55 percent — are women. In a city government where men have historically landed a large majority of high-paying jobs, that represents significant change. Kenney says appointing women was one of his priorities, and he has made a point of hiring senior women advisors throughout his career. As a City Councilman, his longtime chief-of-staff was Deborah Mahler. When he resigned to run for mayor, two “power women,” as the Daily News called them, played a key role in his mayoral campaign: manager Jane Slusser and PR pro Lauren Hitt. Now all three are in the top echelon of Kenney’s City Hall.

Millennials are also well represented in the upper ranks of Kenney’s administration: about 18 percent of his top picks are 35 or younger, and many are holding down big-time jobs. The city’s budget director, chief data officer, and director of emergency management are all 35 or under. So are Slusser and Hitt.

But when it comes to another factor — race and ethnicity — Kenney’s top appointees do not reflect the population of Philadelphia. Sixty-six percent of his high-level appointments are white, 22 percent are black, 8 percent are Latino, 3 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. Comparatively, Philadelphia’s citizenry is 36 percent white, 41 black, 14 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian and less than 1 percent Native American.

When I ask Kenney’s spokeswoman if he is satisfied with that mix, she’s blunt. “No,” says Hitt. “He’s not.”

A Talent Pipeline Problem?

On his first day in office, Kenney signed an executive order to create Philadelphia’s first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. That person’s job, the Kenney administration says, is to eliminate any barriers “that keep the city’s workforce racially and economically divided.”

Kenney’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Nutter, was an African-American who appointed numerous people of color to fill his top posts, from chief-of-staff Everett Gillison to police commissioner Chuck Ramsey to fire commissioner Derrick Sawyer. But a 2015 analysis by Philly.com found that the municipal workforce wasn’t as diverse as the city.

Under Nutter, African-Americans and women were underrepresented in the municipal government’s best-paying positions, as compared to their makeup in Philadelphia’s population. Sixty-four percent of the 4,000-plus city employees who earned $70,000 or more were white; 72 percent were men. Meanwhile, Latinos and Asians were underrepresented across the board. (City Hall is hardly the only major employer or civic institution to skew white, especially at senior levels. Underrepresentation is often an even larger problem in the private sector, including in the press and at Philadelphia magazine.)

To be clear, Kenney has never said that the Nutter administration looked the way it did because of racial or gender discrimination. Rather, he argues that City Hall has long lacked an adequate talent pipeline to ensure that gifted minorities and women can reach the top levels of city government.

The city needs to do more to attract people of color to city employment and then create a pipeline that allows them to advance through the workforce,” says Hitt. “We have some great stories — like our streets commissioner who started out walking behind a trash truck — but we need more of them.” 

Kenney has named Nolan Atkinson, a lawyer who worked to diversify the mega-law firm Duane Morris, to be the city’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. One potential problem spot that he’s examining is the city charter’s “Rule of Two.” It dictates who the city is allowed to hire or promote when a civil service examination is required. To put it simply, the city can only pick among those candidates who earn the top two test scores.

The Kenney administration might try to tweak the Rule of Two to bring more diversity to municipal government. Or it might not. Atkinson says he is examining every possible barrier to city employment and higher pay that’s out there, so clearer paths to achieving the city’s goal might emerge.

Should Kenney Have Looked Outside of Philly More When Hiring?

Here’s another fascinating statistic about Kenney’s top appointments: At least 57 percent worked for the Nutter administration at some point or another. Relatedly, the vast majority have lived in the Philadelphia region.

That begs the question: Should Kenney have looked outside Philly more while hiring? Couldn’t that have led to greater diversity in his top ranks, not to mention fresh thinking?

Hitt says Kenney is conducting a national search for some positions, including a fire commissioner, prisons chief and Department of Human Services head.

“While we’ve hired a lot of appointees with strong Philly backgrounds, there will be non-Philly appointments to come. It just takes time,” she says. “We’re proud of the fact that a lot of our appointees know and love this city — we think it makes the transition smoother and makes them more likely to stay and commit to Philadelphia — but we acknowledge the need for balance, and more of that will be coming.”

Just last week, Kenney made strides in that area: He tapped Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to run Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health.

When I ask local activists and politicos what they think of the racial and gender makeup of Kenney’s team, many of them say the same thing: There’s still more work to be done, but Kenney is off to a good start.

“The fact that 55 percent of the people he’s put into power are women, I think should definitely be commended,” says Natalie Catin-St. Louis, president of Philadelphia’s National Organization for Women. “I think it’s a great step forward.”

Felicia Harris, chairwoman of the Philadelphia NAACP’s Millennials and Young Adults Committee, would like to see Kenney appoint more people of color in the coming weeks. But she applauds him for putting so many women in his inner circle. “That’s a big kudos,” she says. And she thinks Kenney has chosen the right line of attack.

“I think he’s being really strategic,” she says. “A lot of people scrutinize the mayor and the people he appoints, but I don’t think enough attention is placed on the pipeline. That’s the real issue we need to focus on. If we keep focusing on who the top appointments are, then you’re not getting at the root of the problem.”

A Note About Our Analysis

I asked the Kenney administration to provide me with a list of their top appointments, along with each person’s self-reported race/ethnicity, gender, and whether they were 35 or younger. The designation “Latino/Hispanic” can include respondents of all races.

This list was current as of late January. I reached out to each of the top appointments revealed by the administration in the time since then to fill in the gaps. There may be a handful of these interim appointees who are not included in this analysis because they weren’t publicly announced.

Also, Kenney is not finished hiring, so the demographics of his staff may change a bit by the spring.

Lastly, I determined whether appointees had lived in the Philadelphia region or worked in the Nutter administration through city records, news articles, LinkedIn and contact with the individuals.