‘Thanks for Showing Up’: Challengers Butkovitz, Williams Go on Offensive Against Incumbent Kenney in Lone Televised Debate of Philadelphia Mayoral Campaign

Mayor Jim Kenney, seeking a second term, is the first mayoral incumbent in 32 years to face a real challenge.

What to Know

  • The debate got feisty almost immediately, with Williams and Butkovitz taking Kenney to task over his crime plan and the sugary beverage tax.
  • The primary election is May 21, featuring races for mayor, all 17 City Council seats, City Commissioners and local judges.

Incumbent Mayor Jim Kenney and two Democrats challenging him in the May 21 primary election, Alan Butkovitz and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, faced off in the lone televised debate on NBC10 Monday night.

It got feisty almost immediately, with Williams and Butkovitz taking the mayor to task over his crime plan and the sugary beverage tax.

"This is simply a New York giant jumping into the race," Williams said, 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."

Kenney ushered through the sugary beverage tax in what many consider both his milestone achievement and his most controversial one. He stood by it.

"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."

So much hung in the balance for the three men, but the large stage -- at the Ralph J. Roberts Forum at the Comcast Technology Center -- was arguably the last, best shot for Butkovitz and Williams to make a dent in the up-to-now low-wattage primary campaign.

Miss the debate? You can watch the full hour-long event via the NBC10 YouTube page

Neither challenger has a large warchest of campaign cash compared to Kenney. 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.

Butkovitz and Williams pulled no punches, whether it was on the issues or simply for showing up.

 "This is classic Jim Kenney. He's both for it and against it," Butkovitz said of Kenney's stance on efforts to open a safe injection site in Kensington."Safe injection sites are an oxymoron."

He argued that there is no way to open a medical facility to safely administer opioids. Kenney, however, argued that two or three injection sites in Philadelphia could eventually be opened to help fight the public health crisis that killed more than 700 people from overdoses last year.

"Thanks for showing up," Williams said to Kenney while thanking the sponsors who put the debate together.

Kenney mostly held to a script in which he touted public education investment and projects emerging from revenue of the soda tax like his ReBuild program involving city facilities.

"We're continuing to fight every day to make lives better for people in our city. Our investment in education is phenomenal," he said. "And we'll continue to improve our rec centers and libraries, with the beverage tax by the way, because that's not going anywhere."

NBC10 anchor Jim Rosenfield moderated the debate, which was sponsored by NBC10, Telemundo62, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the AARP. Panelists were Iris Delgado of Telemundo62 and Sandra Shea of the Philadelphia Inquirer and

Kenney is 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.

Public safety and the homicide rate were the initial topics of the debate. The first answer from Butkovitz was a familiar refrain.

"We have to stop stop-and-frisk," he said.

Kenney talked about intervention in the neighborhoods that starts with job training. Williams reiterated a campaign promise: he would declare a state of emergency and develop curfew centers.

Other topics included Philadelphia's status as a sanctuary city, which Kenney has touted in a long-simmering face-off with President Donald Trump and his anti-immigration policies.

"I'm happy to see we agree on something. I didn't know if that was going to happen tonight," Kenney said after his opponents shared their support for Philadelphia pushing back against federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Following the debate, Butkovitz and Williams stopped by the press room off of the debate hall to answer questions from reporters. Kenney declined the invitation. Here is video of the challengers:

For More on the Mayor's Race and Other Local Races of 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.

The three men differ in their stances on several issues, like crime prevention, public education and the "soda tax."

They recently answered an NBC10 survey on the issues. For the question-and-answer session, click here

It's 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.


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