Mayor Kenney isn't known to back down from a political fight.
He has called Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput "not Christian" and Gov. Christie a "fat-assed . . . creep." One of Kenney's first acts as mayor in January was clearing the north apron of City Hall, where for years dozens of politicians and other VIPs parked their vehicles.
But those 200 cars parked illegally between the northbound and southbound lanes of Broad Street in South Philly? Reversing that generations-old tradition is apparently too fraught with peril.
It's Kenney's third rail – or, in this case, fifth lane.
"It's not something I'm championing one way or the other," Kenney said last week during a wide-ranging interview.
The Broad Street parking issue resurfaced - to Kenney's dismay - after the Democratic National Convention. During the convention, the city made drivers move their cars by enforcing the laws that prohibit median parking.
Fifth Square, an urbanist political-action committee, liked it. The group registered the domain name fixbroadst.com and has gathered nearly 1,200 signatures from people who want the city to continue enforcing the law.
"The median parking is dangerous and ugly, and yet no one has been willing to touch it for fear of political blowback," the petition says.
"Once that median parking was removed, it opened up the street and really caused no other issues as far as parking was concerned. I was able to park just as I normally do," said Jake Liefer, 31, a South Philadelphia resident and co-founder of 5th Square.
The petition is not going over well in some pockets of South Philly, where the word change is often viewed suspiciously. Many residents say they like the free parking and don't want those cars taking up legal spots on streets to the east and west.
"Horrible idea," said Jennifer Paul, sitting on her steps on Ritner Street near 15th Street. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"It makes me so mad," said Mike Pietrusko, a musician who lives on Broad Street above a dancewear store run by his girlfriend. "Parking is hard enough, and you're going to make it harder?"
"If it's not broke, don't fix it," said Eva Scarduzio, pushing her daughter in a stroller near 17th and Porter Streets. "Nobody makes a petition about them riding their bikes in the middle of the street. It's ridiculous."
Last week, a reporter counted 197 cars parked on the median between Washington Avenue and Shunk Street.
Capt. Louis Campione, a South Philadelphia native whose district includes part of Broad Street, says he does not see a problem. People have to park somewhere, he said.
"It was an issue when my father left for the Army in 1939. When he came back six years later, it was an even greater issue because the number of cars increased," Campione said.
He said he does not consider the situation a safety problem, either.
But Anna Shipp, a nonprofit project manager with an urban-planning background, says Kenney has an opportunity to redesign a congested section of the city, in line with the Philadelphia2035 comprehensive plan.
"Allowing parking in the median enables people to have a stupid amount of cars per household," Shipp said. "A neighbor across the street has five, maybe six, cars. That's just absurd."
Shipp, who has lived at 15th and Jackson Streets for 10 years, says she wants the paved median replaced with a planting strip.
"The city has goals for green space, pedestrian safety, and increasing alternative transportation," she said. "This is one of many opportunities to serve those multiple goals. Not doing something about it sends to me the wrong message about whether the city actually cares about meeting those goals."
Kenney, however, does not sound particularly interested in refereeing this fight in his old neighborhood, knowing how residents reacted in 1961.
As the Associated Press reported then: "An angry, jeering crowd of 2,000 persons hurled rocks and eggs and shouted profanity at Mayor Richardson Dilworth Monday night as he tried to defend his controversial $40 a year parking fee plan."
"Richardson Dilworth got rocked and egged and rotten fruited out of South Philly by suggesting it, or suggesting portions of it," Kenney said. "There is a changing demographic in South Philadelphia. And good. That's a good thing to have these folks moving in, and having different priorities and different sets of what they think the rules should be. But I'm not going to be in a position to dictate anything."
Pushed to take a position, Kenney said he would prefer a "clearer vista" on Broad.
But he added that he was "not going to try to blow up generations of tradition or habit unless everyone agrees that's the direction it should be going."