Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy to Resign, Hopes to See Black Woman Take Role

Philadelphia's managing director will leave his post on Sept. 4, 2020, Mayor Jim Kenney says

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Brian Abernathy, Philadelphia's Managing Director who oversees many city services including police and fire departments and public health, plans to resign his post in September.

Abernathy will leave city government on Sept. 4, 2020 ending a 19 month tenure as one of the city's most influential, yet unfamiliar, administrators.

The Managing Director's office oversees public safety departments, streets, 311 and health and human services among other city services. Typically a behind-the-scenes civil servant, Aberthany was thrust front and center in recent months during the city's response to the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest over systemic racial inequality.

“I thank Brian for his service to the City of Philadelphia,” Kenney said in a written statement. “I’ve worked closely with many public servants throughout my career and few match Brian’s level of integrity and commitment to making our city better."

Kenney said he will miss Abernathy's counsel and "measured leadership."

Billy Penn first reported Abernathy's plan to resign. The news was quickly picked up by other Philadelphia media, including KYW Newsradio.

In his resignation letter, Abernathy wrote, “Our city has weathered tremendous hardship over the past several months. In a short period of time, we’ve faced a pandemic, the worst economic crisis in a century, and important but difficult civil unrest. At the same time, we’ve seen a worsening opioid crisis, pervasive homelessness, and a rising murder rate. Throughout these months, there have been too many nights and weekends where my daughters have wondered where I was, and I’ve placed too many burdens on my wife’s shoulders. I love my job and my city and have made these sacrifices willingly, but 2020 has taken a toll on my family, on my mind, on my body, and on my soul."

Abernathy was appointed as Managing Director by Mayor Kenney on Jan. 15, 2019. He had previously served as First Deputy Managing Director, overseeing the city’s major operating departments and their day-to-day functions.

In the city's regularly scheduled COVID-19 response news conference, Abernathy said it's time to have more diverse voices at the table and hoped to see a Black woman take over his role.

"I recognize that as a white man I have been granted privileges that are unfair. And I know that my daughters are going to have advantages that girls their same age that live close by are not going to have just because of who their parents are and the color of their skin. It’s not fair," he said.

"I think as we traverse these challenging times, a voice of diversity is really important for the city’s future. I strongly believe that.”

Asked whether the city would commit to hiring a Black woman in the role, Kenney said they would hire the most qualified person for the job.

Abernathy, Kenney and Commissioner Danielle Outlaw were criticized for their response to demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd. All three gave conflicting accounts of why officers chose to use tear gas on protesters who marched on I-676 back on June 1. 

Though they initially claimed the protesters were being violent as they blocked traffic, no such evidence emerged to back up the narrative. Instead, video of the incident showed officers violating the PPD’s own policy on the use of pepper spray.

Kenney and Outlaw later personally apologized for the incident and a deputy police commissioner in charge of the police response was demoted while a member of the city SWAT unit was fired. 

During a virtual budget hearing later in June, Abernathy admitted he underestimated the response from protesters, rioters and looters amid the civil unrest over Floyd’s death. 

During a virtual meeting Wednesday, Philadelphia managing director Brian Abernathy described the historic moment the city is currently facing.

“I trusted our police tactics, managed multiple large events and trusted how we prepared,” Abernathy said. “I never imagined, having witnessed our city coming apart at the seams. I was dumbfounded by how out of touch I really was and how I underestimated the anger and rage and frustration of folks I’m hired to serve.”

Asked whether the resignation was tied to his handling of the civil unrest, both Abernathy and Kenney said that's not the case.

“None of this decision has to do with anything that happened in the past month," Kenney said adding that the job requires 24/7 work and quickly becomes taxing.

Kenney said the men were discussing the move for the past few weeks. Abernathy said he wasn't sure what his next career move will be.

A search will be conducted to find Abernathy's replacement, but Kenney couldn't say when that would begin or if it would have a national scope like the recent process to fill the police commissioner's role.

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