Monday, May 04, 2015

Did An Anti-Union Billionaire Hijack The Inquirer's Endorsement Process On Behalf Of Anthony Williams?


Technically, the election for mayor of Philadelphia isn't until November 3. In a more practical sense, the city's Democratic voters will select the next mayor on May 19-- 2 weeks from tomorrow-- in the 6-way primary. You may be aware that Blue America has already endorsed the progressive in the race, Jim Kenney. Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer inexplicably endorsed the Establishment hack that the machine and the anti-public education forces are backing, Anthony Williams. They acknowledge that the race is between Kenney and Williams and, in their headline, declared their backing for Williams is "narrow." The editors seemed to be holding their collective noses when they wrote "Because the unions backing Kenney already wield too much influence, The Inquirer's choice for the Democratic nomination is Anthony Williams." Does that even count as a "lukewarm" endorsement?
Kenney's 23 years on City Council and Williams' 26 in the state legislature make them the most experienced politicians in the field. Williams followed his well-known father and eponym, Hardy Williams, into the state House and Senate, where he is best known as an advocate of school choice [ie, anti-union charter schools], having bucked his party to facilitate charter schools and public assistance for private schools.

Before resigning from Council to run for mayor, as city law requires, Kenney showed independence, too. He successfully challenged the mayor and police commissioner to decriminalize marijuana possession, heading off thousands of needless arrests annually; almost lost his seat for opposing the abused and costly city retirement perk known as DROP; and parted with his relatively conservative South Philadelphia base and beginnings to support same-sex partner benefits.
A few hours later Dave Davies, one of the most senior and respected political journalists in Philly and a senior reporter at WHYY-FM since 2010, started blowing some whistles on how the actually endorsement came down. "After its candidate interviews, the editorial board reached a consensus to endorse Kenney," he wrote... but then the  publisher and editor overrode the Editorial Board decision and instead picked Williams, probably at the insistence of the paper's billionaire owner-- and Williams campaign donor-- Gerry Lenfest. Inquirer sources dispute that Lenfest forced the decision.
Nina Ahmad, the president of the of the Philadelphia chapter of the NOW said in a statement, "we were very disappointed to see that [the] Inquirer Editorial Board once again bent to the will of their billionaire owner and his support for Tony Williams."

Sources familiar with the process have confirmed to me that after its candidate interviews, the editorial board reached a consensus to endorse Kenney... [T]he editorial's criticisms of Kenney and his union ties can also be quoted in negative ads by Williams or his supporters.... [T]he only crew with the resources to wage a significant attack campaign against Kenney is American Cities, the super PAC heavily funded by three wealthy pro-school choice donors from the suburbs.
Hours later Philadelphia Magazine issued a real endorsement, this one for Kenney who, they wrote, "has shown enough in this campaign to make us believe that of the candidates before us, he’s the best choice... On a personal level, the most appealing thing about Jim Kenney has always been how human he is... And that may ultimately be what we’re putting our faith in. One of the great things about human beings is their ability to change, to grow, to rise to the occasion when that’s what’s truly required. Jim Kenney is proof-- we think-- that a man doesn’t have to be at 57 what he was at 35... All elections are about hope, and this one more than most. So as we endorse Jim Kenney in the Democratic primary."
For starters, there’s the basic matter of being able to run the city effectively on a day-to-day basis-- which is largely about attracting talented people to your administration. Even in his Original Recipe incarnation, Kenney was known for having a strong Council staff-- smart, competent grown-ups who were good at doing their jobs. That’s continued during this campaign, in which Kenney has surrounded himself with bright folks and run the sharpest operation by far. It gives us hope that a Mayor Kenney would bring into City Hall an energetic and talented mix of people-- ideally, a blend of policy wonks, business types and seasoned political pros-- who are open to new ideas and can make the city run smoothly and efficiently.

Kenney also shows the most promise when it comes to leadership-- the ability to get people excited and unite them behind a common cause. His current campaign is an intriguing coalition of rowhouse Philadelphians, young progressives and a cadre of African-Americans, and our fingers are crossed that Kenney can get Philadelphia as a whole to rally behind him. (In contrast, leadership is where Tony Williams has most disappointed us. For the last two years, he’s been the presumptive front runner, having amassed party support and the financial backing of three jillionaires from the suburbs. In short, he could have made himself inevitable; instead, his inability to excite people has kept him from closing the deal.)

One final factor that tips us toward Jim Kenney is timing. Successful political leadership is often about the right person showing up in the right place at the right moment. Ed Rendell finally got elected mayor just when Philadelphia needed an Ed Rendell-- someone equal parts fixer and cheerleader-- to be mayor. Similarly, Jim Kenney feels right for this moment-- a man who can continue Philadelphia’s transformation from old to new because he himself has transformed from old to new.

...All elections are about hope, and this one more than most. So as we endorse Jim Kenney in the Democratic primary, we simultaneously challenge him: Bury the old Jim Kenney once and for all, and give us the New Jim Kenney that a New Philadelphia so desperately needs.
Please consider chipping in to stop the charter school take over of Philadelphia schools which is, after all, what Anthony Williams' donors are writing their big checks to accomplish. This morning, Jim told us that "As mayor of Philadelphia I'll work hard fighting for Philadelphians and their families, to ensure pre-K for every child, end stop-and-frisk, and create community schools in every neighborhood, but to accomplish all this and more, I know I can't do it alone. That's why I'm so proud to have the support of a broad coalition of people, unions, and groups from every neighborhood across Philadelphia. To continue building a stronger city, we'll need to work together." Jim Kenney's Blue America contribution page can be found here.

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