A Big City Mayor's Black Problem

The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office and board appointees are overwhelmingly White in a city that's nearly half Black

A Philadelphia Citizen Feature

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by Charles Ellison | in The Philadelphia Citizen | @ellisonreport

The May 21 Mayoral primary has seemed like a slam dunk for Mayor Kenney. But thanks to a new City Controller report, and to the Mayor’s recent gaffe before a room full of Black business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, we’re starting to see some heat in the campaign. And like most, if not all, political cycles these days, it’s boiling down to race.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart’s FY18 Exempt Employee Diversity Review exposed some startling stats about Mayor Kenney’s hiring in his first term. In departments under the Mayor’s authority, White exempt employees are well overrepresented relative to the overall population of the city: 48.2 percent of the workforce is White—despite the population being 34.9 percent white and 65.1 percent non-White, according to 2017 census data. While on WURD’s Reality Check last week, the Controller pointed out that “it’s even worse for exempt employees making over $90,000.” Less than 31 percent of those high-paying senior positions are filled with black employees versus more than 58 percent that are White.

Kenney admits this flaw in his hiring practices, but explained it to a gathering of the African American Chamber of Commerce as  “hav[ing] a hard time hiring Black people for [exempt City government positions] jobs because they’re so super-talented and too overqualified that they choose to run after the private sector instead. They don’t want to take the pay cut.”

It is easy to casually brush aside the ensuing firestorm as the gossipy salivations of city politicos and columnists engaged in “insiders talk.” And Philly does have more pressing issues to counsel itself on, from a gun violence crisis that Temple University research now describes as everyday “mass shootings” to the vast majority of its public school students still languishing five days a week in environmentally unfit buildings and classrooms.

Philadelphia is still home to the largest Black population share of any large U.S. city—nearly half of its residents are black. And every problem, small to large, that the city wrestles with ends up disproportionately and negatively impacting that same black population. Those population dimensions then make this mayoral race, and every other citywide race for that matter, very much a “black thing” borrowing from an overused cultural cliché. Which then raises an interesting question: Does Mayor Kenney really like black people?

Read the entire article in The Philadelphia Citizen