- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Philadelphia’s next mayor wants the economic resurgence that’s manifested in soaring downtown skyscrapers, trendy restaurants and gentrifying neighborhoods to reach the high number of residents living below the poverty line.

Jim Kenney, a former longtime city councilman, garnered nearly 200,000 votes Tuesday in a 6-1 rout over Republican business executive Melissa Murray Bailey, according to unofficial returns. His victory extends the Democrats’ six-decade stronghold on the mayor’s office.

“If we build an economy for all of Philadelphia, then we will not only grow our commercial corridors and provide a real path for returning citizens, we will break the cycle of poverty for so many families,” Kenney said.

Kenney - who garnered national attention last year for calling New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie out on Twitter over his love of the Dallas Cowboys - takes over for term-limited Mayor Michael Nutter in January.

Kenney, 57, and his staff started plotting his agenda after he won the May primary that all but assured Tuesday’s victory. They focused on the economic and educational infrastructure that has continued to crumble beneath a city that, by other measures, is on the upswing.

Helped by a building boom and an influx of millennials and empty-nesters, Philadelphia has fended off Phoenix to remain the nation’s fifth-largest city with about 1.5 million residents. The city has won international acclaim as a tourist destination for its rich history and arts scene. It hosted Pope Francis in September and will welcome the Democratic National Convention next summer.

But the school system remains troubled 15 years after the state wrested control from local officials, causing many newer residents to flee to better-performing suburban districts once their children reached school age.

“He’s inheriting some problems that are even beyond the mayor’s ability to do anything about - the biggest being the schools,” Randall Miller, a professor at the city’s St. Joseph’s University, said. “That’s an entrenched, serious problem with few resources to deal with it. We’re not able to control our destiny in that regard.”

Kenney wants the city to regain control of its schools and sees prekindergarten as a prong in the attack on the city’s poverty rate - which is highest among the nation’s 10 largest cities at 26.3 percent - with better education and earlier academic opportunities leading to a productive adulthood. He said he would fund the $60 million program in part through tax liens sales and contributions from the city’s non-profit organizations.

He also wants job training for people who have been without work or who are re-entering society after time in prison and reforms to free the thousands of people stuck in jail while awaiting trial because they can’t afford bail.

“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,” Kenney said. “If we all pitch in, then Philadelphia teachers will actually have the resources they need to teach and our smallest, most vulnerable children will go to pre-k.”

As a city councilman, Kenney successfully backed marijuana decriminalization, convincing skeptical prosecutors, judges and police officials that citations and fines would be a better use of resources than arresting 4,000 people a year for possession.

He has also pushed penalties for gender identity and sexual orientation hate crimes and supports Philadelphia remaining a sanctuary city for immigrants who entered the country illegally.

Kenney won the six-way Democratic primary in May with support from the city’s labor unions, gay community and immigrant groups helping him overcome nearly $7 million in spending from a pro-charter school group that favored challenger Anthony Hardy Williams, a state senator.

The fall race brought little fanfare, with the underfunded Murray Bailey taking her message door-to-door and Kenney, the Democrat in waiting, trying hard not to act like he’d already won.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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