New mayor, old realities

Mayor Kenney starts his walk up Broad Street to City Hall from the Academy of Music ceremony.

IN HIS SHORT WALK from inauguration to City Hall, Jim Kenney was confronted with glimpses of his new reality.

Moments earlier, he had stood in the warm and welcoming cocoon of the Academy of Music as he was sworn in as the 99th mayor of Philadelphia.

But then, as he traded the giddy buzz of the ceremony for the biting wind on Broad Street, each step that took him closer to City Hall offered a sobering reminder of the problems that are now his to solve.

Protesters calling for housing and immigration reform.

A man and a woman trying to scrounge up enough change for a shared meal at McDonald's.

Antwoine McCoy, a 37-year-old Philadelphian, who stopped to shake the hand of a new mayor who he hoped would create enough opportunities to help his new cleaning business thrive.

"We still need more jobs, and more chances for people who have ideas," McCoy said.

I don't know if the new mayor took note of the realities beckoning just beyond all the back-patting and glad-handing. I hope so. The chronic and complicated problems of the city are nothing new to the lifelong Philadelphian, a veteran councilman. But being in charge certainly is, and as celebratory as the mood was Monday, the work ahead is daunting.

Consider the words of Council President Darrell Clarke that momentarily cut through the festive atmosphere: "None of us here, especially those in this beautiful amphitheater, can feel good about being the most impoverished of the major U.S. cities. Nor can we feel good about unemployment in our neighborhoods, which can be as high as 40 to 50 percent. We cannot feel good about vacant lots and abandoned, blighted buildings."

Indeed. But what we can do is to keep working - imperfectly, maybe too slowly at times - to chip away at what keeps this city and its residents down.

What we shouldn't do is what so many are tempted to do every time a new politician - especially one they voted for - takes the helm: anoint a long-awaited savior.

"I think he'll fix things; I think he's the guy," Harisse Crump said as she waited outside City Hall. Crump, a lifelong Philadelphian, wants more from her city and the politicians entrusted to make life better for its residents. It's only natural to hope for better times, and to want to pour our faith into those who tell us that things are going to be better.

But no man or woman can make the changes Philly needs - not even a favorite son who managed to go from a cramped South Philly rowhouse to a spacious second-floor City Hall office. Even if he is the kind of success story that our kids need to see more of.

Kenney spoke frankly about what it would take to tackle his gargantuan agenda of uniting a divided city, of tackling its chronic poverty, building community schools and corridors, and giving ex-cons a second chance.

"To achieve this vision," Kenney said, "we will all have to work together. Government simply cannot do it alone - we need our businesses, our nonprofits, our universities, and everyday Philadelphians to come together and row in the same direction."

Did you hear that, Philadelphia? We are stronger working together. We always will be stronger working together, even if we don't always get everything we want. Let's try to remember that.

Hanging over the inauguration festivities was this reality: Even cooperation and compromise are easier said than done - especially with a budget impasse in Harrisburg. Kenney conceded as much in his speech. "That may sound like a 'back-to-basics' approach," he said of the partnerships needed to improve Philadelphia. "But in reality, it is as large and as difficult a goal as has ever been announced on this stage."

Soon enough, Mayor Kenney and his former Council buddies will be at each other's throats over some issue. Soon he will have to say no more often than yes. Soon he will feel the true weight of his new office, and at some point I probably will have to take him to task for something. Nothing personal. It's the nature of the job. I liked Councilman Kenney. I have high hopes for Mayor Kenney, although I hope he loses some of the polish of his campaign. Frankly, it's boring.

Soon the honeymoon will be over. But for a fleeting moment Monday, it was nice to believe in big ideas and big plans. It was exciting to welcome in a new mayor and a new beginning, and to be unabashedly optimistic about Philadelphia's future.

And it was tempting to bask in the glow of new beginnings inside the Academy of Music as a new mayor headed to City Hall. Maybe that's why I lingered at the door before a woman humorously suggested I needed to choose if I was staying inside or going out.

That's the beauty of this city. It's a lot of infuriating things, but it forces you to decide: You in or you out?

I'm in. Are you?

As Kenney walked on Broad Street, someone yelled, "Enjoy the honeymoon!" I hope he heard, and I hope he does, however briefly.

And then, as cold and uncomfortable as it might be, I hope he turns his face back into the biting wind of reality.


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