Editor's note: This story has been updated, in part, to reflect that Kenney's comments in 1997 came shortly after Kenney said a friend's home had been burglarized.
Former Councilman and mayoral candidate Jim Kenney has gone to great lengths to shore up the perception that he is more progressive than his opponents — his campaign’s success depends on it.
His team is banking on drawing out lots of younger, liberal voters, like those that helped elect Michael Nutter. To that end, they've lined up endorsements from LGBT groups and unions while trumpeting Kenney’s opposition to the drug war, detention for undocumented immigrants and stop-and-frisk.
That’s the new Kenney.
The old Kenney, according to a 1997 Inquirer article, was a staunch opponent of civilian oversight for the city’s corruption-plagued police department and suggested it would be fitting punishment to amputate the hand of a man charged with two murders. That suspect, Carlos Jimenez, was later convicted.
Speaking about city-funded surgery intended to repair the injured hand of Jimenez, Kenney said at the time, “If you want to do surgery on him, cut his hand off.”
Today, Kenney is a critic of police brutality and has decried tactics that "degrade the relationship between minority communities." He would “work with the police to end stop-and-frisk responsibly,” a spokeswoman said last month.
That too is a sharp turn away from his old beliefs, according to the same 1997 Inquirer story. Notably, the lead of the story describes Kenney as having just learned a friend's home was burglarized.
“We now have discussions, ironically, about no longer allowing police officers to use pepper gas. I mean, come on,” he said at the time. “You can't use the flashlights, you can't use the clubs on the head, you can't shoot anybody. What's next? Are we gonna hand them feather dusters?''
The article also highlights Kenney’s frequent opposition to the “liberal agenda put forth by his colleagues” on council, even comparing the pugnacious, young lawmaker to former Republican Councilman Thacher Longstreth.
In the same article, Kenney bluntly responds to concerns about police crackdowns infringing on civil liberties.
“Civil liberties? We're not protecting the rights of people who are working and paying their taxes and raising their children properly. They can't go out of their houses after sundown. How crazy is that?'' he asked.
Eighteen years after making those statements, Kenney said it was “embarrassing” to hear them repeated over again — but insists it’s part of his evolution and not a recent change for political convenience.
“The change in my incorrect philosophy, and I’d like to characterize it as incorrect, comes from being an at-large member (of City Council) and having access to people like Marian Tasco, Gussie Clarke, Jannie Blackwell, and Angel Ortiz and my ability to listen and learn,” he said, listing off former black and Latino Council colleagues. “The paradigms of policing have certainly changed over 20 years...and I regret making that comment. It doesn’t represent me. It doesn’t represent my thinking or my work.”
Kenney also pointed to his work bringing together the police department and South Philadelphia’s Indonesian community in 2003 as evidence that he had long since abandoned those views. He also fought for reforms like marijuana decriminalization and to ICE detainments in Philadelphia.
He then took a shot at his opponents’ records.
“Talk about a more recent change in philosophy, you got your candidate right there. Talk about ‘the world’s deadliest DA,’” Kenney said, alluding to former District Attorney Lynne Abraham. “I was never the world’s deadliest councilperson.”
Kenney was referring to a media nickname for Abraham, coined by the New York Times Magazine in the 1990s, for seeking death penalty sentences in over 100 criminal cases during her tenure.
Abraham stood by her record, accusing Kenney of “hiding his own.”
"Unlike Jim Kenney, Lynne Abraham has real life success making Philadelphians safer and obtaining justice for victims of crime,” wrote a campaign spokesperson in an email.
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams’ campaign knocked both of his rival opponents’ records on public safety: “It seems that, between Jim Kenney and Lynne Abraham, we have our choice of bad or worse when it comes to taking on crime.”