Inauguration Day: Jim Kenney became mayor, and the whole thing felt like graduation

Cheers, a distracted former Mayor Nutter, and a pervasive theme of the Philadelphia neighborhood resident and how government can make differences in their lives, small and large.

Jim Kenney is sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia.

Jim Kenney is sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia.

Twitter via @PhillyMayor

Jim Kenney held it together for almost his entire first speech as mayor of Philadelphia. But once — just for a moment — Kenney got choked up. It was when he was talking about the Neumann Goretti girls’ basketball team — a group of girls he helped coach — who were not only national champions, but the first in their families to attend college.

He asked the team of teenagers to stand to be recognized, yelled “Squad!” into the microphone, and they recited what was clearly an inside joke back to him.

The raw moment went along well with the themes of the rest of the 2016 inauguration event Monday morning: It was about the Philadelphia neighborhood resident and how government can make differences in their lives, small and large.

At the same time, this solemn event swearing in the new professional lives of a class of politicians and judges serving their city also kind of felt like a high school graduation.

There was cheering: Family and friends from different parts of the auditorium in the Academy of Music on South Broad Street stood and cheered as the person they knew was recognized, whether it be a new judge or a council member being sworn in. At one point, Council President Darrell Clarke had to not-so-subtly hush the crowd.

There was angst, like when now-former Mayor Michael Nutter was photographed staring downward, tapping away on his phone just before his replacement was to be sworn in.

And there were a few moments of what felt like either tense feelings or straight up confusion, like when parts of the room grumbled as Rev. John H. Roberts, Sr. said the phrase “all lives matter” during his prayer that called for unity in the city. At another point during the prayer for the city, Rev. Terrence Griffith broke the solemnity and said, “While I’m at it God, I pray that you give us a championship next year.”

In addition to the swearing in of Kenney, a former councilman, as the new mayor, City Council members were also sworn in, including five who were newly-elected this year. Jurists, city commissioners and other citywide officials also took the oath of office. Then, after it was all over, the newly-sworn-in officials processed from the Academy of Music to their offices in City Hall.

After being introduced by Clarke, Kenney was sworn in by Kevin Dougherty, the newly-elected Pennsylvania state Supreme Court justice and brother of Philadelphia union boss John Dougherty. And Kenney made a bit of a different statement from Roberts. During his speech when he focused on providing opportunities to all Philadelphians regardless of neighborhood, he mentioned criminal justice reform efforts that will take place during his term.

“Acknowledge two things,” he said, “that black lives do matter. And that the overwhelming majority of our police are decent hardworking public servants.”

Kenney, who sat next his two children before being sworn in, kept his address short and sweet and spoke for just about 10 minutes, discussing new policies that he says will keep local government honest in working for everyday Philadelphians, including universal pre-K, community schools and community policing.

“City government should first and foremost deliver efficient and effective services to every single Philadelphian,” Kenney said, “and that is regardless of if they live in the northeast or the southwest or they’re a new transplant or their family has lived here for generations.”

Kenney’s comments echoed those delivered by Clarke, who was elected to serve a second term as council president. He said city leaders will release plans in the next term for tax reform, criminal justice reform and ways to implement community-based schools in every neighborhood.

Clarke said City Council worked well together in the last four years. But there’s more work yet to be done.

“None of us here,” he said, “can feel good about being the most impoverished in the major U.S. cities.”

Kenney ended his inaugural speech with a similar — yet short — message.

“God bless you,” he said, “and let’s get to work.”

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