New councilwoman Helen Gym poses for a photo op.

New councilwoman Helen Gym poses for a photo op.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

‘Organized chaos’: Parties break out in Philadelphia City Hall on Inauguration Day

Derek Green’s employees in City Hall were confused by something their new boss did Monday afternoon.

Just after noon, the city’s leaders were already sworn in at the ornate Academy of Music earlier in the day. As mixed whiskey drinks were being poured outside his newly-minted office, now-Councilman Green was doing something most leaders of the city get someone else to do: Taking out the trash.

“People were like ‘what are you doing?'” he said after carrying a small black garbage can outside his office. “And I was just like, ‘well, the trash needs taken out.'”

It was a human moment during inauguration day in City Hall, a time that was described by a number of people as organized chaos. Parties broke out on at least three floors including DJs, live bands, open bars and food set-ups outside almost every office of a City Council member. Those now occupied by new members — there are five them — were undoubtedly some of the busiest.

Green, an at-large councilman who had been awake since 5 a.m., had friends, supporters and constituents in and out of his office, and he could hardly get out a sentence to one person without being stopped by another and asked for a hug or a photo op.

A live band plays out Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's office in City Hall.

A live band plays out Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's office in City Hall.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

The fifth floor that’s now occupied by Green was filled with tables and smelled a little funky dishes from different cuisines — collard greens, pasta — that melded together. On the fourth floor was a full band next to decorated sculptures and tables draped in satin blue fabric.

Meanwhile, some of the city’s most important figures milled about to congratulate new members of City Council. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan was getting off an elevator as U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty spoke to Council President Darrell Clarke. Newly-elected Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty swung by offices and incoming Police Commissioner Richard Ross made several appearances.

It was a feeling unlike the one normally felt in City Hall: The hallways were filled with people eagerly waiting to engage. And the politicians, for their part, were obliging.

“Today was organized chaos,” said Shanee Garner, the policy and legislation director for new Councilwoman Helen Gym. “The electeds are jittery. So much work is laborious and tedious, but today everyone is on their best behavior.”

The parties in the afternoon Monday were just one of the points in Inauguration Day that felt a little bit chaotic for new leaders based in City Hall. They came after a long weekend of moving into their new offices in City Hall and getting them ready to host what turned into open houses.

Gym’s front room was decked out in articles and memorabilia covering the walls. Her office featured two purple chairs with fuzzy ottomans, as well as a see-through desk with a framed cartoon and a tray of Andes Mints.

Gym's new desk in her City Hall office.

Gym's new desk in her City Hall office.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn
Inside Helen Gym's new office: Purple chairs and sangria.

Inside Helen Gym's new office: Purple chairs and sangria.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

In an interview in a cramped City Hall elevator, Gym said the day was “humbling” for her and said though today is her first official one in office, she and her team have been working non-stop for months.

“I was thoughtful about the work that got us here,” she said about what today’s inauguration festivities felt like. “And how we’ve been trying to do a lot of work all along.”

Several council members including Clarke dropped what they were doing just after 3 p.m. to get into elevators and head to the second floor of City Hall. It’s where new Mayor Jim Kenney would take his first official actions as mayor, signing executive orders and taking questions from reporters.

Among Kenney’s actions were orders that established an Office of Diversity and Inclusion and another that extended the work of the Chief Integrity Officer, whose job is to root out corruption in city government.

New Mayor Jim Kenney signing executive actions in City Hall.

New Mayor Jim Kenney signing executive actions in City Hall.

Anna Orso/Billy Penn

But the last one he signed drew the largest response: He approved an executive order overturning an order former Mayor Michael Nutter signed last month that stripped Philadelphia of its sanctuary city status. Now, in accordance with immigration advocates, Kenney’s signing means that city authorities will not cooperate with ICE detainment mandates coming down from the feds and Philadelphia is once again a sanctuary city.

Kenney’s busy day will continue. He’s attending a $5,000-per-ticket fundraiser for the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and then heading to his Kenney 2015 Inauguration Block Party that’s expected to entertain some 1,500 people.

“I’m a little tired… it’s strenuous to move down the hallways,” Kenney said in the Mayor’s Reception Room today after a day filled with handshaking and selfies. “Sometimes the emotion takes your energy away.”

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