A mayor, a liberal lion, and a moment of tears

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Mayor Kenney (right) speaks with former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford during the opening ceremony for the 21st annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College on Jan. 18, 2016.

by Maria Panaritis

If you thought public office would make Philadelphia’s new boss less Jimmy and more Mayor, think again.

Kenney, the former longtime City Councilman whose sleeve and heart are famously one and the same, had a moment that nearly brought him to tears the other day in front of a large crowd of onlookers.

It happened at Girard College as Kenney stood on stage with a smorgasboard of other political VIPs for the 21st annual Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Dignitary after dignitary approached the podium to reflect on the legacy of the slain civil rights leader. As they did, Kenney seemed thrilled to be standing next to one of his heroes, former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford. The pair warmly whispered into each other’s ears and smiled as the governor, a congressman, and many others spoke.

Then Wofford went to the podium.

“Governor Wolf I first knew when he came back from service in the Peace Corps,” Wofford said. “Mayor Kenney and I began in politics together campaigning some long years ago. [Senator] Bob Casey is a good senator and a wonderful friend in Washington.”

That middle sentence of 13 unremarkable words?  That’s what got to Kenney. The onetime rowhouse kid had stood on a different stage exactly two weeks earlier to become Philadelphia’s Democratic mayor. In his inaugural address, he had spoken of a core conviction about the humanity of service to others. Wofford was a man on the back end of a storied career embodying similar ideals.

As Wofford spoke, Kenney smiled sheepishly. Then his face turned red. His eyes welled, and the mayor dabbed at one eye to stop a tear drop from falling.

Kenney later explained that he was thinking back to “a stinky-ass crab van” in November 1991, on the very day that Wofford won a special election to become U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.

Kenney pal Dan Gallagher had a bar near 4th and Ritner and a white van filled with crab baskets used for Wednesday night crab nights. Kenney was working for South Philly’s then-powerful state Sen. Vincent Fumo. Gallagher agreed to loan the ride on Election Day.

Gallagher was behind the wheel, Wofford in the passenger seat, and Kenney between the two, sitting on a crab basket. All day long, they rolled from polling place to polling place. Wofford never complained about the stench.

All these years later, to see the elder statesman still passionately espousing the vision of a society of morality over malice, a man still vibrant so many decades after working closely with King and other icons of social justice, it got to Kenney.

“I look at him and I see, thankfully, he’s still with us. Thankfully, he’s still inspiring people,” Kenney said. “I hope I live that long.

“And I hope,” he added, “I’m that impressive.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/heardinthehall/A-mayor-a-liberal-lion-and-a-moment-of-tears.html#isuFgxSRjAvBlH6v.99

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