ABOVE PHOTO: Mayor-elect Jim Kenney
From town hall meetings designed to get input from Philadelphia residents, to a group of cabinet appointees that will have no trouble finding their way around the city, the administration of Mayor-elect Jim Kenney is involving locals in a variety of ways.
By Denise Clay
The Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall was packed on Wednesday as Mayor-elect Jim Kenney held a news conference to announce the latest additions to his cabinet.
Among them was Nina Ahmad, the current president of the National Organization for Women’s Philadelphia chapter, who will be occupying the newly created position of Deputy Mayor of Public Engagement. In this position, she’ll be working with city departments to coordinate ways that city government can help, well, city residents.
“It’s going to be a position that cuts across departments and agencies,” she said. “We’re encouraging citizens to bring us their issues and ideas and make sure they get to the right place. This way, all Philadelphians have a stake in our government.”
Over the last week, Kenney has been talking with Philadelphians about what they would like to see from him and his government over the next four years. By creating a position that invites that kind of feedback from Philadelphians, everyone wins, he said.
“A large portion of our community doesn’t feel engaged because they don’t see a reason to be,” Kenney said. “If the community isn’t engaged, we can’t do our best.”
If there’s a theme that seems to be running through the series of cabinet appointments that Mayor-elect Kenney has made since being elected to the city’s highest office in November, it’s one of community engagement.
From the town hall meetings to the mostly local group of people that will make up his cabinet in January, Kenney, a man so South Philly that sitting next to him on the Broad Street Line on the way to a Philadelphia Eagles game isn’t out of the realm of possibility, is going local.
Having campaigned as, for want of a better way to put it, the anti-John Street, it made sense that most of outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter’s cabinet appointments would come from outside the city.
Nutter conducted a nationwide search and brought in folks from around the country including City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell, former Managing Director Camille Barnett, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. While there were a few local folks on board like former Temple official Clarence Armbrister and longtime Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson, many of Nutter’s appointees had to be taught how to pronounce “Schuylkill”.
However, Kenney is working the local talent pool to create a cabinet that appears to be both skillful and diverse, up to and including the newly created position of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Nolan Atkinson, who currently holds the same position for the Philadelphia Office of Duane Morris LLP, will be filling that position.
When Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross was named to replace Commissioner Ramsey as leader of the Police Department, this high profile hire set the stage for the rest. Otis Hackney, an educator renowned for his work at South Philadelphia High School, will be Chief Education Officer and Anne Gemmel, Southeastern Pennsylvania Field Director with Public Citizens for Children and Youth’s Pre-K for PA advocacy campaign and co-founder of Education Voters PA, will be charged with fulfilling Kenney’s campaign promise of quality pre-K programs citywide.
But while some of the people who will be working within the cabinet are local and new, some are local and have been around for a while.
For example, Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources Michael DiBeradinis will be the new Managing Director. Tolson, who currently serves as chief revenue collections officer and revenue commissioner, will be Deputy Managing Editor for Infrastructure and Transportation. Kenney’s City Council chief of staff Deborah Mahler will be Deputy Mayor of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Kenney’s not done picking his cabinet yet, and there are some prominent names still floating around that don’t currently have a home in his administration. Most notable among these is Tumar Alexander, the current Deputy Director of Legislative and Community Affairs, a popular longtime member of city government, and W. Wilson Goode Jr., the longtime city councilman who was defeated in May primaries and who many thought would get the director of the Commerce Department position that went to Harold T. Epps, vice chairman of PRWT Services, and one of the SUN’s Most Influential African Americans.
It’ll be interesting to see how this group of locals handles things in comparison to the mixture of locals and transplants that made up Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. It’ll also be interesting to see how many of the ideas suggested by Philadelphians actually make it into the governmental mix.
But if you want to talk to our new Mayor about it, you can probably catch him on the Broad Street Line.