Kenney Must Be Dizzy From All the 180-Degree Turns He’s Pulling

From his about-face on Made in America staying on the Parkway to leaving the infamous Rizzo statue downtown until after his re-election campaign, our mayor once again proves that pandering harms more than conviction.

Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

“What the hell is going on in City Hall?” I yelled at my laptop last week.

Like many socially conscious residents of the city, I was furious when I heard that the eyesore of downtown — the controversial Frank Rizzo statue — was staying put for several more years. It was around this time a year ago when protesters and Councilwoman Helen Gym were calling for the 10-foot-tall, 2,000-pound bronze monstrosity to be ejected from Thomas Paine Plaza following an act of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia. It felt like a victory when it appeared Philly was joining other cities across the country in removing symbols of white supremacy from the spotlight.

“We think now is a good time to have that conversation about the statue’s future,” Kenney said at the time. “We need to figure out the proper forum for that conversation in a serious, structured way, but now is the right time.”

Fast-forward to now, when it appears as though our once-steadfast mayor has lost his sense of urgency.

“Of all the issues on my scale of important things to do, this is not even in the top 100,” Kenney told Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday. He would later appear on WHYY to add that “with all the things I’m dealing with — from poverty to opioid abuse to schools to education issues — this is the last on my list.”

I wish I could pretend that this was a minor misstep from a mayor whose coalition has billed him as progressive. But in fact, this flip-flop is just the latest example of how Kenney has operated since his mayoral campaign days.

“If [I’m] mayor, stop-and-frisk will end in Philadelphia, no question,” Kenney told Newsworks in April 2015 while on the campaign trail. “[I] would like to work with Commissioner Ramsey as well as the FOP to find a responsible way to bring that practice to an end.”

But after a little time in office — and no serious policy change regarding the issue from his administration — Kenney backtracked: “I never said stop-and-frisk was going to end entirely,” Kenney told Al Dia in 2016. “What we are going to stop is the random stopping of people, Latinos and African Americans, on the street and the cop asking, ‘What are you doing here?’”

It is safe to say we are still waiting even for that.

Kenney’s pattern of 180s is unmistakable, even when he eventually gets it right — such as first defending then later firing his first Office of LGBT Affairs director in 2017 for her failure to tackle racism in the Gayborhood, and backpedaling on his plans to boot the Made in America festival from the Parkway just a few weeks before Rizzo statue switcheroo.

“We had some operational difficulties on the Parkway because of how long it takes to kind of set up and take down,” Kenney said convincingly on July 18th when trying to justify why the popular music festival had to relocate. But six days later (and after a scathing open letter from Made in America founder Jay Z), our mayor changed his tune completely by stating he was “greatly appreciative of everything Made in America has done for the City of Philadelphia” while also remaining “committed to its continued success” for “years to come.”

As the popular saying goes, “a man that doesn’t stand for something will fall for anything.” It’s the inconsistency that should concern us all — nobody likes a leader who plays both sides, one who attempts to appeal to one group at the expense of another’s misfortune.

Kenney was pandering to Black and brown people when he took the local Fraternal Order of Police, an institution whose history with diverse communities is long and contentious, at its word that it would support ending stop-and-frisk. It’s also disappointing that during the one-year anniversary of a white supremacy rally that led to the death of an activist in Charlottesville, Philly just found out that our taxpayer’s dollars will keep a public symbol of hatred hovering over Center City for years to come.

Over the last three years, our mayor’s flip-flopping on issues affecting people of color has drained every ounce of faith I have left in the political system. While Kenney may look at some of these issues as being “the last” on his list, perhaps it would have been best if he had never given the illusion that they were there to begin with.