Election 2019

Philly Mayor Jim Kenney wins Democratic primary

Soda tax backlash wasn’t enough to lift challengers over the incumbent, who’ll likely coast to a second term.

Jim Kenney

Jim Kenney

Emma Lee / WHYY
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Updated May 22

Mayor Jim Kenney sailed to victory in Tuesday’s primary election, toppling two Democratic challengers who campaigned hard against the soda tax, overdose prevention sites and other touchstone issues of the mayor’s first term.

Kenney advances to face-off against Republican Billy Ciancagalini in the November general election — which, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1, all but clinches his second four-year term in office.

With 74 percent of precincts tallied, Kenney held a decisive 66 percent of the vote, followed by state Sen. Anthony Williams (23 percent) and former city controller Alan Butkovitz, finishing in third with 10 percent. The Associated Press called the race shortly after 9 p.m.

“We thought it was important to give people a choice in this election,” Butkovitz said, conceding the race Tuesday night. “I’ve always said Jim Kenney has a good heart, I just felt in terms of management he was not bringing his best efforts to the job. I hope this campaign has sharpened his skills and that he’ll have a successful new.”

While Williams conceded, he vowed to continue to work for the public good. “You will hear my voice that speaks for those who don’t have the power, privilege and position that I currently have,” he said. “That will never stop. I will do that as long as I serve the public, and bring truth to power.”

The trouncing should hardly come as a surprise: No incumbent mayor has lost their re-election bid since the city imposed two-term limits on the office in 1951. Speaking at his victory party at the National Museum of American Jewish History, Kenney thanked voters for re-affirming his second term.

The 60-year-old Old City resident flew a low-key campaign, supported by millions of dollars in support from the building trades unions and other key backers. The beverage industry, which opposes his signature sweetened beverage tax, focused most of its energy on the City Council races.

“We concentrated on social media,” Kenney said about the campaign. Why? “More and more people get their news on social media, especially younger people.”

While general elections are often considered foregone conclusions in this one-party town, Kenney does face a challenge in November.

Republican voters nominated South Philly attorney Billy Ciangalini, who ran unopposed on the GOP ticket. Perennial candidate T. Milton Street announced plans to jump into that contest as well — either as a write-in candidate or as an independent.

In other citywide election news, all four ballot questions were approved by voters.

The Office of Immigrant Affairs will now be permanent, and the push to allow Philly to adopt a citywide $15 minimum wage will move forward.

The city will also be getting a fleet of unarmed traffic cops — despite a lack of details in the proposal — and City Council will adopt the gender-neutral title of “councilmember.”

WHYY’s news team contributed reporting.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2019 stories.

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