Skip to content
CityLab
Justice

How #BlackLivesMatter Is Changing the Philadelphia Mayor's Race

One Democratic candidate has switched up his rhetoric on criminal justice reform entirely, but voters don’t appear to be buying it.
Democratic mayoral candidate and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, left, and former City Councilman James Kenney take part in a debate, Monday, May 4, 2015, at Temple University in Philadelphia. The primary election is scheduled to take place on May 19.
Democratic mayoral candidate and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, left, and former City Councilman James Kenney take part in a debate, Monday, May 4, 2015, at Temple University in Philadelphia. The primary election is scheduled to take place on May 19.AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Jim Kenney entered Philadelphia's mayoral race as the clear standard bearer for criminal justice reform. He declared his candidacy not long after celebrating the city's decriminalization of marijuana, a cause for which he had long been a lonely and passionate advocate on the City Council.

He framed decriminalization as a civil rights issue, calling it an "opportunity to keep young people in our city, many of them African Americans, out of the criminal justice system." He added that "in some ways it’s been decriminalized for quite some time for a certain race of people [if] you go to a Willie Nelson concert, or Phish concert or an Eagles game."