Tag Archives: james kenney philadelphia

Clueless Politicians

James Kenney has been a member of Philadelphia’s city council for twenty-three years. As elected officials go, he doesn’t have much to show for his efforts, but in a city like Philadelphia, that’s not much of a surprise – not because he’s no good, and not because Philadelphia politicians are no good, but because Philadelphia has what’s known as a strong mayor/weak council form of government, the council has relatively little power, and what little power it does have is almost entirely exercised by the council’s president.

For the most part, that leaves council members with the bully pulpit and little else, and Kenney has probably made more of that bully pulpit than most of his council colleagues. He also has made a fool of himself a number of times, including twice in a manner that drew The Curmudgeon’s attention: first, when he publicly admitted that he wasn’t bright enough to tweet, and second, after he learned how to tweet, making the kind of idiotic comments via Twitter about the anatomy and football-rooting allegiance of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie that demonstrate that it’s probably a good thing that members of Philadelphia’s city council aren’t permitted to play with any sharp legislative objects. It also speaks volumes about Kenney that his primary policy interest these days is the decriminalization of marijuana, which strongly suggests that his well of ideas about how to help a troubled city ran dry a long time ago.

Whenever there’s about to be a vacancy in Philadelphia’s mayor’s office – the city has a two-term limit – Kenney’s name typically comes up as a possible candidate. It always comes up in the same, unspoken context: that the only way Kenney, who has no meaningful following, could possibly win the Democratic nomination for mayor is if he is the only serious white candidate in a field with several quality black candidates and the black candidates split the vote, enabling Kenney to squeak by and win. People forget this, but back in 1991, Ed Rendell was considered a political has-been and won his election under those very conditions and went on to serve two very successful terms as mayor, two as governor, and briefly as the national chairman of the Democratic Party, so stranger things have happened.

Kenney rose to power under the tutelage of Vince Fumo, a former Philadelphia political powerhouse. He was a Fumo protégé, as have been many other elected officials in Philadelphia in the past thirty years. Fumo’s no longer much of a powerhouse after spending more than four years in jail after being convicted of each and every one of the 137 federal counts of fraud, obstruction of justice, and filing false tax returns with which he was charged. Among other things, he was convicted of stealing more than $4 million from the state senate, a museum, and a Philadelphia neighborhood group in the state senate district he represented.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently interviewed Kenney, the Fumo protégé, about his political future, including whether he was considering running for mayor or another term on city council. Included in the interview was this exchange between the reporter and Kenney:

Q: You got your political start with Vince Fumo. What did you learn from that experience good and bad?

A: Good is that he was smart, and he had very smart people around him . . . in Harrisburg, appropriations staff, they are a bright group of people and he fostered their abilities to blossom and he wasn’t afraid to have smart people around him. [Bad is] just don’t lose sight that you are a public official and everything you do is scrutinized.

Notice that Kenney didn’t say you shouldn’t steal public money, as Fumo did.

He didn’t say you shouldn’t use state facilities and state property and state employees for private personal and political purposes, as Fumo did.

He didn’t say you shouldn’t obstruct justice, as Fumo did.

He didn’t say you shouldn’t be a political bully, as Fumo was.

No, he said you shouldn’t “…lose sight that you are a public official and everything you do is scrutinized.”

In other words, what he didn’t say was “You shouldn’t do all the bad and illegal things my mentor did.” Instead, he said “You have to remember other people are watching, so by all means, don’t get caught.”

You have to wonder how a politician – how anyone, really – could be so completely and utterly clueless to make such a statement. It’s amazing in two respects: first, that he said something as despicable as he did – “be careful, people are watching”; and second, that he lacked the common sense, even if he believed such a thing, to say it aloud, and to a reporter.

What incredibly poor judgment on both counts. A guy like that who doesn’t know right from wrong, who thinks “right” means not getting caught, is the last thing anyone needs in an elected official.