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After Philadelphia’s July Fourth celebration ended with gunfire scattering the crowds and injuring two police officers, Mayor Jim Kenney gave a TV news interview in which he confirmed what many have suspected for months: he’s not all that interested in being mayor anymore.
“There’s not an event or a day where I don’t lay on my back and worry about stuff,” Kenney said. “So everything we have in the city over the last 7 years I worry about. I didn’t enjoy the Democratic National Convention, I didn’t enjoy the NFL Draft — I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time.
“I’ll be happy when I’m not here,” Kenney said, “when I’m not mayor and I can enjoy some stuff.”
A reporter followed up to clarify: “You’re looking forward to not being mayor?”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact,” Kenney responded.
Twitter buzzed with reaction Monday night and Tuesday morning, as Philadelphians groused over their mayor’s clear, expressed ambivalence toward his job, even as he has well over a year left in his second term.
Many of those tweets, including some from city council members, called on Kenney to resign.
With 18 months left in his term, would Kenney actually resign now? By his logic, it would allow him to enjoy Made in America, the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and of course next year’s Welcome America festival. By his critics’ logic, it might give someone else a chance to show leadership in dealing with the many crises facing the city, from rising gun violence to illegal dumping to fatal house fires and collapses.
Kenney put out a new statement Tuesday afternoon, expressing remorse for what he said Monday night.
“In a late-night, overwhelming moment of frustration, I said I was looking forward to no longer being mayor. Let me be clear, I’m incredibly grateful to be mayor of this great city and for the people who elected me to lead,” Kenney’s new statement says.
He continues: “I made Philadelphians feel like I don’t care, and that cannot be further from the truth. I’ve said it many times before, I lay awake at night thinking about the challenges facing the residents in our city and what more we can be doing or doing differently to solve them. Being mayor comes with a lot of restless nights, so I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep.”
Here’s what would happen if the mayor does choose to step down in the near future.
What does Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter say?
Here’s what city law says about how to handle a vacancy in the mayor’s office:
“An election to fill a vacancy for an unexpired term in the office of Mayor shall be held at the next municipal or general election occurring more than thirty days after the vacancy occurs, unless the vacancy occurs in the last year of the term, in which event a Mayor shall be chosen by the Council by a majority vote of all its members. Until the vacancy is filled, or in case of the Mayor’s temporary disability, the President of the Council shall act as Mayor; and if the President of the Council should resign or be unable to act, then the Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Council shall act as Mayor.”
It’s similar to a vacancy on city council, in that a special election can be held as long as there’s at least 30 days’ notice. For instance, after former council member Bobby Henon resigned in February, a special election to replace him was held in May, on Primary Election Day.
Unlike a city council seat, however, the mayoral office can’t just sit vacant until the election has been held. In the meantime, the city council president stands in as mayor.
So who would be mayor if Kenney resigns?
Council President Darrell Clarke would serve as acting mayor until a replacement is selected by voters or by Council.
If for some reason Clarke was unable to act as mayor, the job would go to Councilmember Derek Green, as chair of Council’s Finance Committee.
As for permanent replacement, if Kenney were to resign any time between now and October, his replacement could be elected this November as part of the general election. That person would then be mayor until the end of Kenney’s current term, in January 2024, but they could run in the November 2023 mayoral election.
If Kenney resigns less than a year before his term expires, City Council will vote on a mayor to finish out his term.
Has a Philadelphia mayor ever resigned mid-term before?
Richardson Dilworth resigned in 1962 to run for governor. James Hugh Joseph Tate was council president at the time, and became acting mayor. Tate finished Dilworth’s term and then was elected to two more terms, making him the longest-sitting Philadelphia mayor since the Home Rule Charter was adopted.
How would all this affect the 2023 election?
Kenney’s successor is supposed to be elected in November 2023. Several sitting city officials have already begun to position themselves as potential candidates, along with a local grocery store magnate.
Some councilmembers have confirmed they’re considering a run, and two of them — Derek Green and Allan Domb — hinted in June, during Council’s final session of the fiscal year, that it might be their last time addressing their colleagues before resigning.
Green and Domb both tweeted about Kenney’s statements, and so did fellow (rumored) mayoral hopefuls council member Helen Gym and city controller Rebecca Rhynhart.
Council member Cherelle Parker, also rumored to be eyeing a mayoral run, addressed his comments during a city council press conference Tuesday. She said Kenney’s statement was “asinine” and that she called him to tell him so. “I told him that if you can feel this way, imagine how Philadelphians who don’t have the ability to check out feel on a daily basis,” she said.
Because of Philadelphia’s resign-to-run rule, any current city employee must resign before officially launching a campaign for mayor. Those resignations are expected to start within the next few months.
If choosing a new mayor becomes a more imminent issue due to Kenney resigning, that could throw a wrench in the potential candidates’ plans.
On the other side, it also creates an opportunity to try to become mayor without having to go jobless for a year-plus, and get invaluable name recognition leading up to the 2023 election.
It’s not just the mayoral hopefuls making their opinions known about Kenney’s statement. Council member Katherine Gilmore-Richardson released a statement prompting Kenney to apologize and reaffirm his commitment to leading Philadelphia, including a request that he submit an operational plan for addressing gun violence and quality of life issues.
“Mayor Kenney – abdicating your responsibility is not an option; waiting for your term to end while there is much work left to be done is not an option. Leadership means bearing the collective weight of the challenges we face and finding a path forward,” Gilmore-Richardson said.
Have people called on Kenney to resign before?
For over a year, community leaders have pointed to various issues they trace to Kenney’s failings as mayor, saying they just don’t trust him to lead the city anymore.
The first wave of calls for resignation were more than two years ago, when it was revealed that Philadelphia police used tear gas on peaceful protesters who were out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd.