PHILADELPHIA – An exasperated Mayor Jim Kenney said early Tuesday morning after two police officers were shot that he is so worried about safety at public events that he will “be happy” when he is no longer mayor, prompting national attention and calls for his resignation.
Standing alongside police brass outside Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Kenney made the comments just after midnight, about two hours after gunfire rang out and chaos ensued during the city’s annual Independence Day celebration on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
“There’s not an event or a day where I don’t lay on my back at night, looking at the ceiling and worry about stuff,” he said. “So everything we have in the city over the last seven years, I worry about. I don’t enjoy Fourth of July. I didn’t enjoy the (2016) Democratic National Convention. I didn’t enjoy the NFL Draft. I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time.
“So I’ll be happy when I’m not here – when I’m not mayor, and I can enjoy some stuff.”
A reporter followed up, asking: “You’re looking forward to not being mayor?”
“Yeah,” Kenney said with a smirk, “as a matter of fact.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw began speaking and returned attention to the response to the shooting, which left two officers with graze wounds. Both were treated and released Monday night. No one had been arrested as of Tuesday morning.
Kenney walked back his comments in a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying he’s “disappointed” in how he conveyed his sentiments in an “overwhelming moment of frustration.”
“I made Philadelphians feel like I don’t care, and that cannot be further from the truth,” he said. “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.”
Kenney’s moment of candor swiftly garnered national attention, and criticism mounted Tuesday from colleagues in City Hall. A handful of Philadelphia Democrats who are considering runs to replace him were especially harsh or called for Kenney – who leaves office in January 2024 – to step down now.
One of them, at-large Council member Derek Green, said Tuesday morning that Kenney should resign, saying that while he’s empathetic to the mayor, chief executives can’t express defeat.
“This is a position that people choose to run for and people are looking for leadership in times of crisis,” Green said. “(Kenney) said in his statement he wants to be happy. That’s what he said. This is his opportunity to be happy again.”
Council member Allan Domb – who is also considering a run for mayor – said Kenney should resign because his comments amount to an abdication of his oath of office.
“His remarks indicated, to a degree, that he’s given up on the city and the people he’s supposed to serve every day,” Domb said. “Public leaders are sworn into office to serve those they represent. … You can’t have a leader who is the coach of the team and throws in the towel.”
And Mehmet Oz, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, also called for the mayor to step down, saying Kenney’s comments were “further indication he has given up on Philadelphia.”
But City Council leaders said Tuesday during a news conference that calls for the mayor to resign would go nowhere. Council President Darrell L. Clarke – who by law would replace the mayor if Kenney were to leave office before the end of his term – said it’s unproductive to call for the mayor’s resignation. He said he talked to Kenney on Tuesday, and “the mayor said he’s not going anywhere.”
Council member Mark Squilla, who represents the city’s 1st District, said a resignation would result in chaos and wouldn’t fix the problem of ongoing gun violence.
“You want to tell people to resign? What’s gonna happen? That doesn’t help us,” he said. “We now as leaders of Council are working together with the administration … to try to resolve this problem, which is public safety.”
Other potential mayoral candidates stopped short of calling for Kenney’s resignation but slammed his administration’s response to gun violence. Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker said Kenney’s comments were “asinine” and that she called him afterward to express her dismay.
“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.
And at-large Council member Helen Gym, the progressive stalwart also counted among potential mayoral candidates, said in a statement that “Jim Kenney may be defeated but this city won’t be.” She added in a tweet: “Put your big boy pants on and get to work!”
Kenney’s admission that he’s looking forward to not doing this job anymore was in some ways unsurprising coming from a term-limited mayor who has appeared increasingly isolated and disengaged in his second term.
It was also illustrative of just how fed up he is with the surge of shootings in Philadelphia that began in 2020 and led to last year being the city’s deadliest in recorded history.
He has said his administration is doing what it can to stem the tide. The Police Department has been making arrests for illegal gun possession at a record pace, and the city will spend millions of dollars in the coming fiscal year on a variety of anti-violence programs outside law enforcement.
But Kenney also often places blame with the GOP-led state Legislature, the national political environment and society writ large. After a mass shooting last month left three people dead and 11 wounded on South Street, he appeared in public for the first time two days later after flying home from a conference in Reno, Nevada. He said that without stronger gun regulations at the state and federal levels, the proliferation of firearms in the city will continue.
“I’m not passing the buck to the Legislature or the U.S. Congress, but it really does make it more difficult,” he said last month.
After the police shooting late Monday night, Kenney also blamed a recent Supreme Court decision that struck down a New York law intended to limit the public carry of guns.
“We live in America, and we have the Second Amendment, and we have the Supreme Court of the United States telling everybody they can carry a gun wherever they want,” he said. “We have to come to grips with what this country is about right now. We had a beautiful day out there today except for some nitwit … who has a gun and probably shouldn’t have had it.”
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