* Was a Philadelphia City Council member from 1992-2015
* Has served as Mayor of Philadelphia since January 2016
* Declared Philadelphia a “sanctuary city” for illegal aliens
* Strong proponent of gun control
* Views America as a nation plagued by “systemic racism”
* The incidence of shootings and homicides rose dramatically under his watch as mayor.
Born on August 7, 1958 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, James Francis Kenney was raised in an Irish Catholic family. He graduated from La Salle University in 1980 with a B.A. degree in Political Science. From the late 1970s until the early 1990s, Kenney worked as an aide and spokesman for Democratic state senator Vincent Fumo, who, prior to his 2009 conviction and sentencing to a 55-month prison term for fraud, served 30 years as an influential Pennsylvania lawmaker.
While employed as Senator Fumo’s District Chief of Staff in 1991, Kenney decided to run for an at-large seat in the Philadelphia City Council. Winning the most votes in a 26-candidate field, Kenney credited Fumo for having played a major role in his victory: “[I]t had nothing to do with me. It was all the political deals, getting the money, and without a doubt, the support and help of Vince Fumo and [Philadelphia Democratic Party Chairman] Bob Brady.”
Kenney spent 23 years as a Philadelphia City Council member from 1992-2015. During his later years on the Council, he supplemented his $130,000 annual salary with various additional sources of income – e.g., as a consultant for an architecture firm, a board member for Independence Blue Cross health insurance, and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Including his city pensions and state retirement options, Kenney earned roughly $350,000 during his final year as a councilman.
In a 2012 tweet, Kenney denounced Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs after the latter had made comments critical of Barack Obama’s re-election as president. Wrote Kenney: “You [Dobbs] are a large asshole. Crawl back under your rock. You are a hater and a creep hiding behind your microphone.”
Kenney ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2015. His platform emphasized the need to address the problems of police abuse (particularly when directed against nonwhites), discrimination of all types, and economic inequality. He advocated greater government oversight of the police; the termination of stop-and-frisk policing practices; the implementation of a higher minimum wage; universal pre-kindergarten financed by taxpayers; and an expansion of taxpayer-funded affordable housing, .
Kenney’s campaign took in some $4 million in donations which featured heavy support from political action committees (PACs) bankrolled by labor unions and LGBT groups. When he captured 56% of the primary votes to win the Democratic nomination over five other opponents, Kenney essentially secured the mayorship in the overwhelmingly Democrat city of Philadelphia.
In the November 2015 general election, Kenney easily defeated Republican Melissa Lynn Bailey, garnering 85.4% of the vote to become Philadelphia’s 99th mayor. He took office on January 4, 2016.
Shortly after being sworn in as mayor, Kenney signed an executive order reinstating Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city for illegal aliens. Arguing that anti-sanctuary efforts were motivated chiefly by racism against nonwhite migrants, he said: “If this were Cousin Emilio or Cousin Guido, we wouldn’t have this problem because they’re white.”
In his initial week as mayor, Kenney attempted to deny any connection between the Muslim faith and Edward Archer — a black American Islamist who on January 7, 2016 used a stolen gun to shoot Philadelphia law-enforcement officer Jesse Hartnett because he (Archer) believed that police “defend laws that are contrary to the teachings of the Quran.” Though Archer acknowledged that he had previously pledged his personal “allegiance to the Islamic State,” Kenney said: “In no way, shape, or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam, or the teaching of Islam, has anything to do with [Archer’s crime].” Instead, the mayor blamed the incident on the proliferation of firearms in American society: “There are too many guns on our streets and I think our national government needs to do something about that.”
In June 2016, the Philadelphia City Council passed a “soda tax” of 1.5 cents-per-ounce on certain sugary beverages and diet drinks. Similar previous efforts, including several that were led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had been defeated as a result of intense lobbying from the American Beverage Association and other, similar organizations. Hoping to avoid a repeat of such failures, Kenney emphasized the potential benefits of the $91 million that his proposed tax was projected to raise – money that could, in turn, be used to fund universal pre-K and other social programs. “If you want to tax something and people know where the money’s going to go, then it’s easier for them to get behind it,” said Kenney.
In 2016 as well, Kenney enacted a policy barring cooperation between Philadelphia law-enforcement officials and federal immigration agents.
In spite of his Catholic upbringing and education, Kenney has frequently clashed with local authorities of the Catholic Church. In July 2016, for instance, he criticized Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput after the latter had approved a Catholic archdiocese document titled “Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia,” which stated that divorced, civilly remarried, and cohabiting couples must: (a) “refrain from sexual intimacy” and (b) “sacramentally confess all serious sins of which he or she is aware, with a firm purpose to change, before receiving the Eucharist.” “Jesus gave us gift of Holy Communion because he so loved us,” said Kenney. “All of us. Chaput’s actions are not Christian.”
In 2016 as well, Kenney was an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, despite Clinton’s open support for same-sex marriage and the right to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand — positions that both were irreconcilable with Catholic teaching. Moreover, Kenney had previously served as the officiant for at least one same-sex wedding ceremony, and in June 2016 he had attended a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia.
In 2018, Kenney sided against the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s federal lawsuit accusing the City of Philadelphia of discrimination because of its decision to cut off Catholic Social Services (CCS) from foster-parent placements because of CCS’s religion-based opposition to same-sex marriage and the placement of foster children with LGBTQ couples. “We cannot use taxpayer dollars to fund organizations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or because of their same-sex marriage status,” said Kenney. “It’s just not right.”
In a June 2018 interview with CNN host John Berman, Kenney said that he feared President Donald Trump because of the potential damage he could do to the United States and the world at large. “I don’t how you can make your case to a child who acts childish, who changes his opinion and his statements every single day and who, frankly, frightens me more than I was frightened in 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War,” said Kenney. “And the guy is just a scary guy, and I don’t – hopefully, by the time he’s gone, we can recover from this mess, but this is a bad time in our country.”
When Berman asked “what specifically” Kenney feared about Trump, Kenney replied: “I’m frightened about the fact that he has his hands on the nuclear codes, that he threatens to annihilate North Korea in the middle of Japan and South Korea.”
During the same June 2018 interview, CNN host John Berman asked Kenney how he felt about President Trump’s criticism of the many professional athletes who had recently been kneeling during the pre-game national anthem as a gesture of protest against America’s allegedly widespread epidemic of racism and police abuse of black people. “Specifically in relation to the anthem,… do you think there is a legitimate discussion to be had about how athletes behave during the national anthem?” Berman inquired. “Athletes are American citizens who have the right – the First Amendment right to express their views,” Kenney responded, adding: “I stand when the anthem is played with my hand over my heart because I’m a privileged white male. There are other people in this country who the issues of this country have effected them differently, and they have a right to express their discontent and a right to express the fact that they’re protesting against certain things. And no one has the right to take that away.”
In June 2018, Kenney celebrated a federal judge’s ruling that the Trump administration could not, as it wished to do, withhold funding to Philadelphia because of its status as a self-identified sanctuary city. Kenney took to Twitter to declare that the judge had “upheld our right to welcome immigrants regardless of their [legal] status.” “Philadelphia will always be a welcoming city for all,” the mayor added.
In July 2018, Kenney announced that the city of Philadelphia would not renew its contractual agreement to provide the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency with the Police Department’s Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS). Said a press release sent out by the mayor’s office: “For some time now we have been concerned that ICE uses PARS in inappropriate ways, including to conduct investigations that result in immigration enforcement against law-abiding Philadelphia residents.” “It’s a decision that will, once again, reinforce to our immigrant communities that the City is not an extension of ICE,” said Miriam Enriquez, Director of the City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “Witnesses and victims of crime in our City will know they need not fear adverse immigration consequences when they report crimes or use services offered by the City.”
Kenney strongly objected to President Trump’s July 2019 remark recommending that four far-left Democrat congresswomen who had consistently portrayed America as a racist wasteland – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley – should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Condemning Trump and his administration for having committed acts that were “so anti-human, antithetical, anti-American, [and] anti-decent,” Kenney said: “If Donald Trump ever has to go back where he came from, he’s going to have to go to hell.” Kenney also tweeted: “It’s sad — terribly sad that Trump tells American Congresswomen to leave the country they love because they don’t see the world through his racist eyes — on the same day that ICE rounds up families seeking refuge in USA. We must continue to RESIST!”
“In the midst of a global pandemic, America’s original sin of racism has not gone dormant. It has claimed the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Black Americans are outraged—and they should be. I share that outrage. While I will never know the heartbreak and trauma the Black community continues to experience, I want Philadelphians to know that I, and other City leaders, stand with them and are here to support them. You should not have to bear witness to the killing of yet another unarmed Black person. You should not have to feel as though society believes your lives are less valuable than white Americans. And you should not fear for your lives—or for your loved ones—when leaving the house. Like you, I’m watching as Americans across the country protest to express their anger and frustration. I understand the need to stand up and make your voices heard. Please keep each other safe by protesting peacefully, distancing as much as possible, and wearing masks. To all Philadelphians who are struggling under the weight of these recent—but not uncommon—tragedies, know that we see you, we hear you, and we love you.”
In June 2020, Kenney again posted on social media to express his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. On his Twitter account, for instance, he displayed a photograph of himself kneeling alongside leftist protestors at a City Hall demonstration organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “This week has been humbling,” wrote Kenney. “It has shown me — someone who considers themselves [sic] to be progressive and an ally — that there is a great deal more for me to learn….Black voices have been silenced for too long. We must hear those voices and act on their demands.”
In June 2020 as well, a number of Philadelphia police officers were surrounded by dozens of rioters who began to rock the vehicle in which the cops were riding. When SWAT team police arrived at the scene, the agitators threw rocks and bottles at them, forcing the officers to use tear gas in order to give themselves an opportunity to flee the scene. “There may have been additional uses of tear gas,” Kenney tweeted. “I am deeply concerned by this development. All of these incidents will be investigated by [the Department of] Internal Affairs.”
On June 24, 2020, Kenney, citing his concern for “public safety,” issued a statement advocating the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue from its location at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia — the first publicly-funded monument to Columbus ever erected in the United States. “Like many communities across the country,” said Kenney, “Philadelphia is in the midst of a much-needed reckoning about the legacy of systemic racism and oppression in this country and around the world. Part of that reckoning requires reexamining what historical figures deserve to be commemorated in our public spaces. In recent weeks, clashes between individuals who support the statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza and those who are distressed by its existence have deteriorated—creating a concerning public safety situation that cannot be allowed to continue. We must find a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of others that come from different backgrounds.”
Just days ahead of the 2020 presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Kenney announced that it would undoubtedly take “several days” for the city to count its final vote total. “Never in the history of this city have so many people voted by mail,” he explained. “By law, staffers are not allowed to start opening and counting these ballots until Election Day itself….That means getting a tally of mail-in ballots will easily take several days. This may determine the outcome in Philadelphia, and in the Commonwealth as a whole. So again, please be patient.” One of the few heavily Democrat areas in an otherwise predominantly Republican state, Philadelphia reportedly received more than 400,000 mail-in and absentee ballots that had to be counted in the days following Election Day.
Kenney supports a plan by a Philadelphia nonprofit called Safehouse to construct a building on the city’s south side that would serve as America’s first supervised injection site for drug abusers. It would allow addicts to take illegal drugs under medical supervision in a “consumption room,” with expert personnel standing by in the event of an adverse reaction or overdose. As The Washington Free Beacon reported: “Staff would provide users with clean syringes, directions for safe injection, equipment to test drugs for contaminants, and referrals for social services.” The plan stalled, however, when the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January 2021 that federal law prohibited the establishment of so-called safe-injection centers. In October 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to disturb the lower court’s decision.
On September 27, 2022, Mayor Kenney signed an executive order prohibiting the possession of firearms at both outdoor and indoor recreation areas such as fields, playgrounds, pools, and rec-center buildings throughout Philadelphia. The order barred even licensed concealed carriers from taking their guns to such places. Said Kenney during a news briefing that same day: “This gives them some protection, some peace of mind, some ability to call the authorities when some knucklehead decides they want to bring a gun into a rec center, and they see it, that’s part of what this is about.”
On September 27 as well, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Kenney’s order was on shaky ground from a legal perspective because of a Pennsylvania preemption statute barring cities and municipalities from passing any gun-control regulations that are more exacting than those in effect at the state level.
Less than a week later, the organization Gun Owners of America (GOA) filed suit against Kenney’s executive order and secured a permanent injunction from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Despite Kenney’s gun-control efforts, shootings and homicides spiked sharply in Philadelphia under his leadership. Total homicides increased in each of his first six years as mayor — from 277 in 2016 to 562 in 2021 (the city’s highest one-year total ever recorded). Eighty percent of those 562 victims were black – almost all of them killed by other blacks.
In 2022, the city’s homicide total was 516. The city also had 1,791 non-fatal shootings in 2022, a slight dropoff from the 2021 figure of 1,831.
In February 2023, Kenney, while discussing a recent incident where a carjacker had shot and killed a Temple University police officer, stated: “There’s too many [guns] and they’re too easy to get.” Added the mayor: “You can say you back the blue [police officers, who wear blue uniforma], but if you don’t back gun control and [decreased] gun availability, you don’t back the blue. We owe it to them to do everything we can to stop this nonsense and stop this tragedy.”