Jim Kenney

Mayor Kenney brings Philadelphia into DNC opening night spotlight

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke during the DNC's opening night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke during the DNC's opening night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Opening with “Yo, Pennsylvania,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney spoke at the Democratic National Convention Monday night, doubling down on a pro-immigration stance that has earned him scorn from conservative pundits. 

“I can't tell you how angry I am that...all our immigrant brothers and sisters had to hear the ugly things said in Cleveland,” Kenney said, referring to the host city of the Republican National Convention.

Echoing statements he gave earlier in the day at an immigration forum, Kenney became the second major PA pol today – after Congressman Brendan Boyle’s lunchtime speech to PA delegates – to paint a picture of Donald Trump supporters as a 21st-century incarnation of the Civil War-era, anti-immigrant “Know-Nothing” party.

“They claimed these immigrants – people like my family – were more likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Sound familiar?” asked the South Philly-born descendant of Irish immigrants. “The Know-Nothings have returned and, last week in Cleveland, they vowed to ‘take their country back’ this November.”

Kenney has been a staunch defender of Philadelphia’s so-called “sanctuary city” status, which bars local law enforcement officials from sharing information with federal immigration agencies.

Republicans across the spectrum have seized upon sanctuary cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco as de facto asylum providers for foreign criminals. Republican PA Sen. Pat Toomey, facing a tough re-election fight, even sought to shore up his own security credentials by introducing a bill specifically designed to punish cities like Philadelphia by depriving them of federal funding. (It died in committee.)

But Kenney gave no ground to his critics during his Monday evening slot, part of the night’s “United Together” theme that put the spotlight on a string of pro-immigration and Latino speakers. 

“When we come together, the Know-Nothings who overran Philadelphia in 1844 will finally be defeated with the election of Hillary Clinton as President,” he said.

Kenney’s strong words, clocking in at just over three minutes, were warmly received by a Wells Fargo Center crowd that had to endure brutal heat and security lines. It came several hours ahead of the DNC’s prime time speakers, like Michelle Obama, keynote speaker Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as the arena was still filling with delegates and media.

The mayor also used the brief national platform to hang his hat on the passage of a landmark soda tax – the first of its kind in any large US city – designed to fund many of his campaign promises, like universal pre-kindergarten for low-income residents.

“Recently, I was talking to an immigrant restaurant owner,” Kenney remarked, “who told me that he supported the tax, even though he sells soda, because it was going to help the neighborhood children.”