‘Greatest Honor of My Life': Jim Kenney Easily Wins Philadelphia Democratic Mayoral Primary, Virtually Assuring 4 More Years

Mayor Jim Kenney was the first mayoral incumbent in 32 years to face a real primary challenge.

What to Know

  • Jim Kenney was challenged a former city controller, Alan Butkovitz, and a current Pennsylvania state senator, Anthony Hardy Williams.
  • The primary election includes races for mayor, all 17 City Council seats, City Commissioners and local judges.
  • Other local primaries throughout Pennsylvania were held. The general election is Nov. 5.

Lee esta historia en español AQUÍ.

Jim Kenney easily beat out two well-known Democrats Tuesday in what was the first primary challenge for an incumbent Philadelphia mayor in more than three decades.

His victory all but assures him another four years as mayor of the sixth-largest city in the United States. Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 7-to-1 in Philadelphia, giving the winner of the Democratic primary a virtually insurmountable advantage in the Nov. 5 general election.

"Serving as your mayor has been the greatest honor of my life," Kenney said in his victory speech shortly before 10 p.m. "There’s something special about being mayor when you walk into a pre-k classroom and see how a quality education empowers our children. My frequent school visits serve as a powerful reminder of what we’re fighting for each and every day."

Kenney will face Republican Billy Ciancaglini, an attorney from South Philadelphia who ran unopposed in the primary.

It Official: Candidates for Mayor, Sheriff, City Council in Philadelphia

Incumbents in nearly every elected position in Philadelphia are facing competition in the upcoming May municipal elections. Notably, Mayor Kenney faces an old foe, and two women are trying to unseat the incumbent sheriff and become the first-ever female sheriff in the city.

Democrat names are in blue and Republicans in red.


For live updates to all the Philadelphia races, click HERE for our Elections Results page.

The incumbent mayor for weeks brushed off challengers Alan Butkovitz and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. But Butkovitz, a former three-term city controller, and Williams, who previously ran for mayor and governor, tried their best to put pressure on Kenney in recent weeks.

The challengers made numerous public appearances and attacked Kenney for his sugary beverage tax at the lone televised debate of the campaign May 13. 

Still their sweat equity couldn't make up for paltry campaign funds. Butkovitz and Williams both had less than $60,000 in the bank as of May 10, compared to Kenney who has more than $700,000, according to campaign finance records.

Kenney also received support from outside political forces — like labor unions and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.

1 Dead as Car Flips in Roosevelt Expressway Crash

Race In Philly: LGBTQ Community Supporting Racial Justice

"This is simply a New York giant jumping into the race," Williams said during the May 13 debate, referring to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $1 million to a political action committee in support of Kenney. "He gave a million dollars to (Kenney's) campaign. (Bloomberg) loves stop-and-frisk. He loves the soda tax."

The sugary beverage tax was Kenney's milestone achievement and his most controversial one during his first term. But he has stood by it despite persistent attacks by Big Soda and local grocers and distributors.

"I believe this tax is equitable because you don't have to buy the product," he said in defense of the tax, which has withstood multiple lawsuits. "It's likely that if you buy bottled water instead of soda, it's the same company you're buying from anyway. I don't know how there's a loss of business or jobs from people switching from one product to another."

Kenney was the first incumbent Philadelphia mayor in 32 years to face primary challengers with name recognition.

Paradoxically, the tax, which is Kenney's signature progressive achievement, is much less popular than Kenney. Fifty-five percent of Democratic voters in Philadelphia either approve or strongly approve the incumbent, according to a recent poll.

In his victory speech at the National Museum of American Jewish History, he harkened to his lifelong political fight for public education and blue-collar workers.

"I was pro-labor yesterday. I am pro-labor today. And I will be pro-labor tomorrow and every day after that," Kenney said as he thanked unions for their support.

Philadelphia voters also voted yes on four ballot questions. Voters called for the removal of gender-specific language from the city charter, to establish rules for a city office of immigrant affairs, to raise the minimum wage and hire public safety enforcement officers.

From removing gender-specific language from the city charter to hiring public safety enforcement officers Philadelphia voters said yes to four ballot questions during Tuesday’s primary.

The public safety enforcement officers would be civilians — hired to help police resolve traffic, safety and quality of life issues. The city plans to use them in high-traffic areas including Center City and Manayunk.

For More on the Mayor's Race and Other Local Races in the May 21 Primary:

The race for Philadelphia Mayor is heating up. Mayor Kenney is facing criticism from other candidates for the soda tax as well as his past comments on the lack of diversity in his own cabinet.
Contact Us