At Kenney's party: Pride, joy, and reflections

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney celebrates his victory with supporters at the National Museum of American Jewish History on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The fifth floor of the National Museum of American Jewish History, where the windows look out on Old City, filled up Tuesday night with the unlikely coalition Jim Kenney has created over six months - and the Philadelphia he says he hopes will stay at his side for the work ahead.

He hammered at that hope in his victory speech.

"Tonight, surrounded by all of you, I am reminded that it is not what I am going to do, it is what we are going to do," Kenney said. "If we all learn to see the world through one another's eyes, then every Philadelphian will be able to walk our streets safely and with dignity."

In the crowded room, Kenney's St. Joseph's Preparatory School friends, who'd known him a mere 40 years, looked on and smiled proudly, standing alongside business executives, City Council members, LGBT advocates, union leaders, and firefighters. They raised cellphones to snap photos of the city's next mayor. They shouted, "Way to go, Jim!"

Michael Minton said his old friend had long dreamed of such a night. He remembered meeting Kenney at a Phillies game 22 years ago, when he was a fresh face on Council. "I must have heard Jim talk a hundred times - quite a few of them after midnight - about how much he wanted to be mayor," Minton said. "I'm just amazed and delighted that it's happening."

Minton, who works for a civil engineering firm, said Kenney has the passion for the job, and has also grown more disciplined with words and emotions over the brief span of his mayoral run. As Minton put it: "Up to 21 years and six months ago, he hadn't changed a bit."

Feel-good music played as a slide show behind the stage flashed pictures of Kenney on the campaign trail, hugging supporters, shaking hands with priests, and posing with children. A spread of Philadelphia favorites - soft pretzels, Tastykakes, peanut chews - got as much attention as the more refined cheese table, but not as much love as the beer and wine bar.

A trio of Kenney pals from the Prep drank beers and joked about the stories they couldn't share with reporters. "He's still the same guy, with a common touch, a good person but also a visionary, he's been ahead of issues, taking positions even when they were not popular," said Jim McHugh, a public defender from Mount Airy.

Marie Donato, 79, waved a metallic orange pom-pom and shouted "Whoopee!" about as proudly South Philadelphian as that word can sound.

Donato runs a funeral home and hasn't forgotten the help Kenney, her former neighbor, provided when she had issues with prostitutes loitering on her property. "I'm his number-one fan," she said with a grin.

It's Kenney's "all in this together" vision that Nyisha Chapman, 37, likes. She works in community relations for the Philadelphia Gas Works and got to know him over his years on Council.

"I think he's a great progressive leader," she said. "Just look around the room, and you see the diversity of the people who are for him."

Kenney will need to balance the interests of his biggest backers, particularly unions, with the city as a whole. He spoke of that earlier in an interview, saying it was unfair, even counterproductive, to treat the two as different.

"Those folks are not separate. Our municipal work force are city residents, they're not two separate sets of people, and they have the best interests of the city at heart, and they understand there's limits and they understand there's financial issues and problems, especially in the pensions," he said. "I think cooperative, respectful interaction is the best way to go, and if you set yourself up as the villain or the enemy, you're going to get people digging in and not ready to concede or do anything differently."

A little later, Kenney ended his brief speech - just two minutes - by connecting the celebration at a museum honoring the aspirations of Jewish families seeking the American dream with his own Irish Catholic childhood.

"In those days," he said, "South Philly was a mix of immigrant families from all different backgrounds and faiths . . . but despite their differences, they all worked together to create a better place for their families to live." He called on all Philadelphians to join him in doing that now.

Then he headed for the elevator with his parents, his daughter and son, whom he has shielded from the spotlight. He and his wife are separated.

Earlier, on the cab ride over, before the speakers blasted "Ain't no stopping us now," before the bright lights came up and the cheers rose, Kenney reflected on becoming the city's 99th mayor.

"I think, symbolically, the 99th mayor of the city is a person who's in tune with the 99 percent," he said. "I like the 1 percent, too, don't get me wrong. But I come out of a rowhouse neighborhood, blue-collar family, firefighter dad. This is the best I can get."

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso