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Guest Commentary: “Philadelphia’s Education Mayor”

In the second of three pieces from the Democratic Mayoral campaigns, a supporter of Mayor Kenney reflects on his first term

In the second of three pieces from the Democratic Mayoral campaigns, a supporter of Mayor Kenney reflects on his first term

Jim Kenney wears his heart and his emotions on his sleeve. Like or dislike him, he’s authentic and as real as it gets. As the young kids say, “he keeps it 100.”

When people ask me why I’m supporting Jim Kenney for Mayor, I usually run off a long list of things that I believe he’s done for Philadelphia. But one of the main reasons I support him is because he’s a city kid at heart, born and raised in a working class neighborhood just like me. He understands the vital importance of the local recreation centers to young people in these neighborhoods. That’s why he’s investing hundreds of millions in our rec centers, parks, and libraries through his bold Rebuild initiative.

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The people who work at these rec centers are good, caring, and conscientious. Some of them saved my life one night when I was a scared, impressionable teenager trying to figure out who I was and find my way in the world.

Mr. Jerome “Butch” Mills ran the Cunningham Community Center back in the day. Along with Gloria Whiting and Cy Johnson, Mr. Butch helped guide lots of young people and kept many of us out of trouble.  

Mr. Johnson helped me fill out my college applications and all the financial aid forms and he introduced me and so many of us to the arts and culture and made us feel good and proud of ourselves. These committed adults shared so much with all us young people at the Cunningham Community Center. They inspired us, they guided us, they watched over us, they instilled confidence in us and gave us hope and they pushed us to do well in school and to go to college. My community center and its emphasis on doing good, helping each other and going to school, made me who I am today.

I believe—as many African Americans do—that our best weapon against poverty is education. Jim Kenney has made our children’s education his top priority. He took back local control of our schools from Harrisburg. He successfully stood up to the billionaire special interests who opposed the beverage tax that is now providing free pre-K to over 4,000 children, along with providing critically-needed structural improvements to our libraries, rec centers and parks. Kenney provided over half a billion in new funding for our schools last year, and is proposing another $700 million this year. Kenney has spent more time visiting our kids in local schools than all three of our previous mayors combined.

One of the main reasons I support him is because he’s a city kid at heart, born and raised in a working class neighborhood just like me. He understands the vital importance of the local recreation centers to young people in these neighborhoods.

Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode smashed the racial barrier in Philadelphia when he became our first black Mayor. John Street was probably the best fiscally-minded Mayor we’ve ever had. Michael Nutter was the Ethics Mayor. Ed Rendell may have been “America’s Mayor,” but Jim Kenney is Philadelphia’s “Education Mayor.”

Jim Kenney shares the views of most African Americans that education is key to ending poverty, combined with plugging the school to prison pipeline that has sent millions of our young men of color to prison for non-violent offenses. Kenney has taken the criminal justice system by the horns and reduced our jail population by over 40 percent in three short years—and for all intent and purposes he’s closed the House of Correction.

Kenney is attacking violent crime and murders the best he can in spite of the state refusing to let Philadelphia enforce our own gun laws. We need the legislature in Harrisburg to take on the gun lobby and pass strict gun control laws to stop the flow of guns into our neighborhoods—and empower us with the authority to enforce our own gun control laws and stop the violence in our city.

No one has done more to create jobs and open the door for minorities in the building trades than Jim Kenney.  While the high unemployment rate among African Americans in our city is totally unacceptable, Kenney is making Rebuild an economic engine to train and employ hundreds of African Americans across the board for permanent good paying jobs in the trades. Kenney understands the plight of working people. He believes no one should have to work three jobs just to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. Kenney raised the minimum wage last year for all City employees and contractors to $15 an hour and he’s helping push for a city-wide $15 an hour minimum wage.

The upcoming Democratic primary election is vitally important for a number of reasons. Not only are there some 30 candidates running for five City Council at-large spots, but it will also be a referendum on Mayor Kenney’s progressive agenda.

Kenney’s administration is comprised of some of the best and brightest African American leaders in the city of Philadelphia. People like Otis Hackney, the former principal of South Philadelphia High School, who now serves as the Mayor’s Chief Education Officer or Harold Epps, one of the city’s most prominent business executives, who was appointed by the Mayor to be the City’s Director of Commerce. The highest ranks of his administration are also stacked with the likes of City Solicitor Marcel Pratt, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nolan Atkinson, First Deputy Managing Director Tumar Alexander, and many more.

His campaign for re-election is headed up by a talented group of young black activists, led by his Campaign Manager Brandon Evans—the wunderkind political genius who helped secure Larry Krasner’s stunning upset victory for District Attorney two years ago, along with Deputy Campaign Manager Brittany Smith, a highly respected union organizer with a sharp and analytical mind, and Jasmine Sessions, a well-known powerhouse fundraiser.

The upcoming Democratic primary election is vitally important for a number of reasons. Not only are there some 30 candidates running for five City Council at-large spots, but it will also be a referendum on Mayor Kenney’s progressive agenda and all that he’s done for our families and our children. I’m standing with Mayor Kenney because he’s willing to tackle the tough problems and take on high-powered and very rich special interests regardless of the consequences—and he’s focusing on the basics—our kids’ education, our schools, our neighborhoods, and our rec centers.

Ryan Boyer, a lifelong Philadelphian, serves as the Business Manager of the Laborers District Council for Philadelphia & Vicinity, President of the Philadelphia Philadelphia Building Trades, and Chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority.
Photo: The Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia

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