We reached out to former Philly mayors to see how they handled interactions with families of homicide victims.
For a while now, Mayor Jim Kenney hasn’t looked like a man who likes his job. Being mayor sounds like a pretty tough job, to be fair. But it certainly has to have its good moments, such as when Philadelphia was recently named the host city for the 2026 World Cup. On that day, a Applicant the photographer was on site to capture the scene at LOVE Park and the resulting photo it depicts a veritable mob of euphoria: people embracing, mouths open amid screams, arms raised in triumph. That is, until your eyes wander to the center of the frame and you see a nervous-looking man in the middle of some shallow applause: Mayor Kenney. And to think this is a guy who once posted on Twitter“I love love love the World Cup!!”
Still, we don’t need to engage in facial forensics to discern that Kenney doesn’t like being mayor. We can take him at his word. Earlier this month, Kenney said that, two and a half years into his second term, he looks forward to the day when he is no longer mayor. (He later took those comments back — sort of.)
This week brought another scathing statement. At a news conference on the city’s response to the gun violence crisis, Kenney said he has not met with any families of homicide victims in his seven years as mayor. (There have been 305 people killed in Philadelphia so far this year, just one percent of last year’s record pace.) “We haven’t talked specifically to the families,” he said. “As far as the homicides go, I don’t know that it’s productive to intercede during or during the investigation.”
When later asked to clarify — “So you haven’t had a chance to meet with the relatives of any of the city’s 300 homicide victims this year?” a reporter asked – Kenney replied: “Not specifically. I may have had conversations with them. No specific meetings were held. I’ve never met any family in almost seven years like that.” Then he added, “I don’t know if any mayor has done that.”
Huh. That last part seemed unlikely. So we reached out to all five of Philadelphia’s living former mayors to find out if they used to meet with the families of crime victims during their time in office. Bill Green and Wilson Goode could not be reached for comment, but Ed Rendell, John Street and Michael Nutter could. Here’s what they had to say.
Ed Rendell (Mayor from 1992-2000)
Rendell says he met with the families of crime victims throughout his time as mayor — sometimes in his office at City Hall, sometimes at the hospital. “I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis, but if someone expressed a desire to see me, I would, by all means, meet with them,” he says, estimating that he would have about 10 to 15 such meetings every year. . “I’ve often had meetings with families whose loved one was killed and the police didn’t make an arrest, and then they complained about the investigation — the police weren’t moving as quickly as they could, et cetera,” says Rendell. “I met with them and tried to explain what was going on.”
Asked if he was surprised by Kenney’s remarks, Rendell said, “I’m confused because I’m sure [met with families].”
John Street (mayor from 2000-2008)
Street provided the following written comment:
“I visited a small number of homicide victims, but very discreetly. However, no mayor has time to visit all families, as this would be very time consuming. … I think this criticism of the mayor is unfair and largely reflects general discontent and other, more legitimate issues.”
Michael Nutter (mayor from 2008-2016)
Nutter says he also had meetings with the families of the crime victims. “There were definitely in-person meetings from time to time,” he says, “and a lot of phone calls—talking to the families, expressing my condolences and apologizing for what I felt was our inability to keep the child or family member safe. We took it as a personal embarrassment that we couldn’t do better.”
Sometimes, Nutter didn’t wait for a family member to request a date. In 2014, after a three-year-old girl named Tynirah Borum was shot and killed by stray gunfire while she was braiding her hair on her front porch, Nutter showed up unannounced at her mother’s house. “We sat in her living room, just the two of us,” says Nutter. “She told me about her daughter, I apologized and we talked. And then he gave me a picture of Tynirah. I put it in my wallet that day and I’m looking at it right now. It’s been in my wallet every day since then.” For Nutter, conversations like these were “just a basic human component of work and public service, you know? Every day will not be sunshine and rainbows. But you still do it.”
Which brings us back to Kenney.
The mayor has since issued a lengthy statement saying the “surge of gun violence we’ve seen in our city — and across the country — is unacceptable and pains me to the core.” But the statement doesn’t take back anything he said during the press conference, as it refers to meeting with families and instead lists the many initiatives, including the Office of the Victim Advocate, that serve to help citizens who have been affected by the violence . “While we have been in touch and our administration continues to engage with some families of loved ones who have been injured or killed by violence, the vast majority of trauma supports and interventions are provided by various city departments because we know that violence prevention begins with prevention and ends with healing,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, in a response to a request for comment for this story, a spokesman for the Kenney administration further added that Mayor Kenney It has met with families who have lost people to violence, including through a law enforcement program called Group Violence Intervention, at a 2017 rally hosted by Applicant columnist Helen Ubiñas and on community listening tours. “He met with other people on an ad hoc basis and the point he made is that it wasn’t a systemic, regular thing that he did, nor was he aware that it was systemic from other mayors. It happens largely on demand, as former mayors seem to have acknowledged,” the spokesperson wrote. For some reason, none of this came up in Kenney’s recorded statement.
Still, like Kenney’s earlier comment about not wanting to be mayor anymore, the initial remark was revealing. It reflects an exhausting and exhaustive sense of disengagement that Kenney seems either unwilling or unable to do anything about. It is hard to believe that you would make a remark that you would never meet the families of homicide victims if you met them often, or even occasionally. (Apparently, the rally Kenney’s spokesman pointed to was five years ago.) At some point, you just have to start taking what the mayor of Philadelphia says and believe it.