Do Something

Demand better leadership

Do you want to see more from Mayor Kenney? Want him to resign? Or, do you think he’s doing a great job? Either way, it’s your right—maybe even your duty—to let him know.

Reach him via email or give him a call at 215-686-2181.



to this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the audio edition of Larry’s story

And go here for more audio articles from CitizenCast


What great leadership looks like

“You have to have pragmatism, you actually have to work with people you disagree with because you have to deliver for the residents you serve. If everything is a fight, then no one wins.” —Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin

Here he is at our virtual event last summer, sharing wisdom on what it takes to be a good mayor:

Get our newsletter

Compelling ideas in your inbox

For a weekly dose of ideas, solutions and practical action steps, sign up for our newsletter:

* indicates required


( mm / dd )

And follow us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Should Mayor Kenney Resign?

A prominent pastor has called for Mayor Kenney to step down. Would that be a good thing?

Should Mayor Kenney Resign?

A prominent pastor has called for Mayor Kenney to step down. Would that be a good thing?

When Rev. Mark Tyler speaks, folks listen. I don’t know him well, but the pastor of Society Hill’s historic African Methodist Episcopal Church has long been a moral voice in the city’s too-often transactional daily narrative. His church, founded by Richard Allen in 1794, was the birthplace of the AME denomination, and Rev. Tyler’s activism traces back to its very founding, after Allen and Absalom Jones led a walkout from St. George’s Church to protest inequality.

Rev. Tyler has always impressed me as one of those faith-based civic leaders with both street and backroom cred. In addition to tending to his flock, he’s been a driving force behind the activist clergy group POWER and a co-convener, with the Urban Affairs Coalition and Independence Blue Cross, of the Ending Racism Partnership. Candidates for public office seek his imprimatur and he, in turn, speaks truth to their power.

“At a certain point, in an administration that continues to do things like this, you have to ask yourself: When does the mayor resign?” Rev. Tyler said.

“The ethos and spirit of the AME Church is that if you’re a pastor, you’re involved in social justice work,” Rev. Tyler, once told the Inquirer. “It’s part of who we are.”

So it was significant that, in the body of a recent news story on, Rev. Tyler seemed to issue a call for Mayor Kenney to resign from office. He ticked off the many ways the Kenney administration has come up short in times of crisis of late: The gun violence epidemic. The tear-gassing of peaceful protesters. The embarrassing vaccination rollout plan. The debacle over the handling of recently discovered MOVE remains.


“At a certain point, in an administration that continues to do things like this, you have to ask yourself: When does the mayor resign?” Rev. Tyler said.

Hardly anyone has been more critical than I of Mayor Kenney, but something about Rev. Tyler’s call for the mayor to step down took me aback. I reached out to him last week to talk it through, and could sense how frustrated he’s become by an across-the-board lack of leadership in our city. Moreover—and this is rare in our go-along-to-get-along town—I found a leader willing to speak his mind, even if that rubs some among the permanent establishment the wrong way.

“My sense has been these last several years that the mayor has been mentally checked out,” Rev. Tyler told me. “That’s fine, it’s okay to decide you don’t actually like the job. You can leave it. You don’t have to serve the whole eight years. Unlike other positions, so much falls on the mayor. The mayor’s office can be a gateway or a bottleneck, and you just get the sense that this mayor is running out the clock. We can’t afford that.”

A caretaker mayor may have been a viable option, pre-2020. But now, Rev. Tyler seems to be saying, our needs are different. We need vision, we need a can-do spirit, we need to build back better, to borrow President Biden’s smart and pithy phrase.

“It’s one thing to elect a decent manager under normal conditions,” Rev. Tyler says. “But we’re dealing with a pandemic, racial uprisings and out-of-control gun violence. I’ve known Jim Kenney for some time now. This isn’t personal. He doesn’t have the aptitude or ability to lead. I pastor a Church. That requires leadership. You have to show up. If the roof has a hole in it, I’m the chair of the finance committee and the Board of Trustees. I can’t turn to the lay people and say, You guys got to fix that hole. They’d be right to say, You’ve got to get out of the way so the Bishop can send somebody else who can get the job done.”

“My sense has been these last several years that the mayor has been mentally checked out,” Rev. Tyler told me. “That’s fine, it’s okay to decide you don’t actually like the job. You can leave it. You don’t have to serve the whole eight years.”

What seems to rub Rev. Tyler the wrong way is Kenney’s penchant for buck-passing. Others fall on their proverbial swords—former Managing Director Brian Abernathy and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley were both jettisoned after public screw-ups, and former Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Dennis Wilson was demoted after the tear-gassing of protesters last year—all while the mayor evades accountability.

I’m sympathetic to Rev. Tyler’s point of view, and have written in the past that, in Independence, Missouri, ol’ Harry Truman is gyrating in his grave, because the buck never stops at Jim Kenney’s desk. But, ultimately, I can’t get with Rev. Tyler’s bold call for the mayor to step down for two reasons.

First, let’s put the mayor’s job performance in context. It’s the worst time in recent history to be a big city mayor. Across the nation, mayors are stepping down at an alarming rate, burnt out. Atlanta’s Keisha Lance Bottoms recently announced she won’t run again —and, in Massachusetts, nearly a quarter of all mayors are following suit. Suddenly, being a mayor is, according to former Atlanta mayor and civil rights icon Andrew Young, not only a thankless job: “It’s worse than that,” he told NPR. “You’re not only not thanked, you’re blamed for everything that goes wrong.”

Rev. Tyler makes a compelling case for Kenney’s failing grade, but shouldn’t we be grading on a Covid curve, as former mayor and governor Ed Rendell and Congressman Dwight Evans admonished me to a few months ago?

“I am increasingly concerned about the challenges facing Philadelphia—all at one time,” Rendell said back then. “The pandemic, the economy, the racial awakening, the murder numbers —each one would be difficult to deal with on their own. Jim Kenney didn’t cause any of these and yet he has had to deal with them all at the same time. No mayor, myself included, has had to deal with such gut-wrenching problems all at once. But my concern is that the response to them has been more finger-pointing than a constructive banding together.”

Kenney’s handling of the pandemic, Rendell argued, was actually better than most. “Did you know that of the biggest nine cities in America, we have the lowest daily case rate, tied with D.C.?” he said.

I know, I know. He doesn’t suck as bad as some other mayors isn’t really a rousing endorsement. Which gets us to the heart of why Rev. Tyler’s provocative call ought to go unheeded: There’s something more important than the arbitrary changing of a mayor, however flawed he may be. That is Democracy itself.

It’s under assault from all angles, and there has been let loose in the land—from the fringe left and the wacky right—a clenched-teeth urge to drive others from the public square. Make no mistake: The values of the enlightenment are in jeopardy; cancel culture is a real thing, and it knows no ideology. Liberals want to ban Trump from social media and right wingers want to dictate what teachers can say in the classroom.

With that as context, treating the expressed will of the people as anything but sacrosanct is a recipe for furthering our descent into illiberalism. Jim Kenney won two landslide elections to become our mayor and, while Rev. Tyler may make the case that he has been an incompetent manager and AWOL leader, there’s been no scandal that belies a betrayal of the public trust. Rev. Tyler and I have a host of policy and stylistic differences with the mayor; that doesn’t give us the right to disappear him, or even to urge him to disappear.

“That is a legitimate point,” Rev. Tyler says. “You never want to undermine the will of the people. He was elected twice. But this really illustrates the problem of not having a recall process in Philadelphia. If you put a spotlight on all the things we’re talking about in terms of this mayor’s performance in the last year, he’d have a pretty hard time surviving a recall.”

Reverend Mark Tyler, pastor of Society Hill’s historic African Methodist Episcopal Church
Reverend Mark Tyler

Maybe, but be careful what you wish for. Last week, a statewide recall bill that once had bipartisan support was amended by state house Republicans to only apply in Philadelphia. Suddenly, a reform proposal was politically weaponized.

And precisely why do we think recalls are a good thing, anyway? Look at how the California gubernatorial recall is turning that state’s politics into even more of a circus, with Caitlyn Jenner, retired porn actress Mary Carey and the guy incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom crushed just two years ago all running. The California recall is actually solving for a problem that doesn’t exist; Newsom’s favorability ranking statewide is in the mid-50s. It’s one thing, in a pluralistic society, to disagree with your neighbor’s vote. It’s another to seek to invalidate it with a do-over.

Is it too late for Jim Kenney to rewrite his legacy? I think not, but he’d have to pull off a stunning about-face and get a couple of high profile wins on the board. Maybe Rev. Tyler and I have been asking too much of this mayor. He’ll never be a visionary or an FDR-like bold thinker. He’ll never marshall us to our better angels, like Rendell, or technocrat his way to change, like former Mayor Michael Nutter.

But there are things he can do right now to remake himself into a leader who delivers practical, tangible results for the citizens of his city. He can become a deliverer of services in the mold of a late, legendary Boston Mayor. Tom Menino never made a chill run up anybody’s leg—his nickname among the press was “Mumbles” and he once famously observed, “I have did my duty”—but he got his city. He once said that the best thing about being mayor was that “I get to be everybody’s neighbor” and, man, was he proficient at delivering city services to them.

It is within Kenney’s power to become known as a mayor who solves real problems in real people’s lives. But he’d better get started.

Menino proved that it doesn’t take much to satisfy a local electorate. The average taxpayer wants to know that when she calls 911, police or fire or EMT will show up; when it snows, the streets will be cleared; and that, when she places her trash on the curb, it will be picked up once a week. That’s the non-negotiable baseline for governance, and it is within Kenney’s power to become known as a mayor who solves real problems in real people’s lives.

But he’d better get started. Just this week, trash is once again not getting picked up on time in Jim Kenney’s city, and the administration’s response—seriously—is to blame it on the rain. Tomorrow, Kenney could see to it that your trash gets picked up, and he could take other steps that might make you feel like someone is looking out for your quality of life.

For example, the mayor could immediately outlaw the scourge of courtesy towing, whereby the parked cars of innocent, taxpaying citizens get mysteriously commandeered, only to be recovered after days or weeks of stress and inordinate fees. He could make good on his pledge to finally clean the streets, so that my friends who visit from New York no longer refer to Philly as “the city that never sweeps.”

He could adopt the recommendations from the Manhattan Institute’s Small Business Agenda report, like turning City Hall into a “one-stop shop” for all business regulation, licensing and permitting, thereby eliminating the need for multiple trips to multiple agencies. And he could remake his police department so that it adopts techniques citywide that have proven to lessen gun violence like focused deterrence and CURE violence, while—at the same time—reforming police culture so cops become problem-solvers rather than escalators of conflict.

This may not be the type of swashbuckling leadership and sweeping change of Rev. Tyler’s fantasies, but, taken together, it would be a sign of an administration that isn’t just a passenger in its own government. It would be a signal that someone, somewhere, is grappling with problems.

Maybe that’s the best we can hope for until the electorate weighs in again, in 2023. Remember, if Kenney does heed Rev. Tyler’s call and resigns, the new mayor would be City Council President Darrell Clarke—another transactional pol who, to paraphrase the first President Bush, doesn’t do “the vision thing.”

Even if the mayor steps down, I suspect we’ll still be having this same conversation, about how Philadelphia has become a place where bold leadership, cutting edge policies and smart ideas go to die. Let’s lobby this mayor to do better rather than—borrowing from Pete Townsend—bring in a new boss…only to find he’s the same as the old boss.

Header photo by Jared Piper/PHLCouncil

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.