A Prayer for Jim Kenney

(August 2015)

I'm not one to seek divine intervention when it comes to moving Philadelphia forward.  I'm much more inclined to agree with founder William Penn's belief that, "governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too."  So, if any of this fall's spiritual visitors to Philadelphia have any influence in the heavens, I would ask not for a prayer for the city, but for a little serenity for our next mayor.

When Jim Kenney (presumably) takes office as Philadelphia's 125th mayor, he will do so with an incredibly valuable perspective.  As a council person since his election in 1991, he has spent nearly a quarter century enduring rejection from mayors who often rebuffed his policy initiatives and rebuked his outspokenness.  Unlike many who are content to serve on Council without making waves, Kenney continually pushed his initiatives despite mayoral opposition.

If, over recent decades, I had to pick one word to describe Councilperson Kenney, it would have been, "frustrated."  Surrounded by a city that needs so much change, Kenney simmered on a slow boil as he saw things as they never were and asked, "why not?"  Unsatisfied with the responses he received, he pushed back.  I certainly did not agree that each of the battles he fought would have improved life in the big city, but I appreciated the fact that he was willing to endure the frustrations again and again, yet continue to try to convince a series of mayors that his ideas had merit.

Praying for Reign

As he prepares to try out the cushions on the chair behind the mayor's desk, I hope he remembers the frustration he felt dealing with those who sat in the chair before him.  I hope he recalls the exasperation he felt when he had a good idea that found only opposition from the mayoral administration.  I hope he realizes that others will be coming to him with ideas that can make Philadelphia a better city and counting on him to not shut them out.

While the temptation might be to slam the door to the Mayor’s Office shut so that he can try to do everything he has been thinking about for decades, I hope that, as mayor, Jim Kenney remembers what it is like to find that door closed.  I hope he will open it to others.

I think there is a prayer for that to happen.

I hear that some are asking the Pope to bless the knee of the new Eagles' quarterback and that others are hoping that the Dalai Lama can usher in a day of kindness in a city with a reputation for being less than kind (or at least that's what one Santa and one Hitchbot say).  But, I don't think we need help from above for our next mayor.  I think we just need him to remember what it was like to be the frustrated policy wonk, hoping that the mayor would give his ideas a fair hearing.

Pray for Philadelphia

Countless advocates for worthy causes in Philadelphia are offering their own private supplications that the next mayor will bless their policy initiatives in the next administration.  They are each convinced that their ideas can improve Philadelphia if only the mayor would listen.  If he remembers what it is like to be the one with those ideas, Kenney will resist the temptation to shut others out to promote only initiatives of his own design.

So what is my prayer for Jim Kenney?

It is certainly not the laugh line from Fiddler on the Roof which recounts that, when the rabbinic authority is asked if there is a proper blessing for the Tsar, he responds, "A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar... far away from us!"

And, it's certainly not the melancholy wish of Philadelphia's founder.  While he may have claimed that governments go from the motion men give them, William Penn did offer a prayer for his city that concludes, "My soul prays to God for thee that thou mayest stand in the day of trial, that thy children may be blest and thy people saved by his power."  

Instead, I hope that our next mayor finds grace in understanding that we all want to make Philadelphia the city that it SHOULD be, and achieves peace with this simple plea:

God, grant me the serenity to accept ideas from others to make change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know that nobody else will know the difference --
Because the mayor gets the credit for all the improvements, no matter who came up with the original idea.