Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is getting into trouble because he spoke his truth, saying he’s looking forward to a time when he’s not mayor. As someone who was a Township Supervisor for 6 years, I understand this sentiment perhaps as much as anyone.
Being a local elected official may look great from the outside. You get to show up in places, they announce your name, you wave to the crowd. People seem to pay a little more attention when you say something. People ask your opinion. You have the opportunity to make changes, and work on things you care about. You can help people in your community by helping them navigate the government, and even by teaching them how to make officials like you uncomfortable, so they listen and make change. Those parts of the job are great.
However, much of the job is like a customer service job. People yell at you, for things that are not, and cannot be your fault or responsibility. They assume you have much more power and authority than you do. They assume everything that happens, good and bad, but especially the bad stuff, is your personal fault and incompetence. If you have to raise taxes because you need to balance the budget and make sure the staff gets paid, then you are a spendthrift taking money out of the mouths of their children. If you put in a new stop light or traffic signal, you are only interested in making money off of your citizens. Here in Kennett Township, people like the fact they have a better and quicker police response, but conversely, they think its too expensive and think somehow we live in Mayberry where nothing ever happens, yet they want to be assured that a prompt police response will happen if something like the Uvalde school shooting happens. (You can’t get a quick response unless you have officers in place already…)
There’s no winning in local politics. Everyone in the public seems to think you are a moron, and somehow benefitting from the job. For Township supervisors, the pay is $2,500 A YEAR, codified in state statute, so there’s no way we can give ourselves a raise. For the time required, I once worked it out that we were getting about $5.00 an hour- way less than minimum wage to be sure. You only run for this office if you care about the community and have something you want to do. The amount of stress is incredible. You certainly don’t do it for the pay.
In my case, during my term, we discovered the Township manager had been stealing from the Township. It went on for years before I was elected, and I actually took time off my “day job” in order to put all my effort into helping the investigation and the huge amount of work required to fix everything the previous manager broke. It was incredibly stressful, and because there were ongoing investigations that would see the manager eventually sentenced to jail, I couldn’t talk about it to anyone. It was horrible to have people assume we were all stupid and negligent, when most of it happened before I even hit the door. Yet at re-election time, people wanted a change, and I was not re-elected.
At first, I was disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? But then I started to understand the scope of the constant stress and how it had been affecting me. Since leaving office, my blood pressure has dropped over 50 points. I have remembered what it’s like to be happy, and to have free time. My family says I’m no longer angry all the time. My quality of life has improved in immeasurable ways.
So when Mayor Kinney says he will be glad when he’s not mayor, I know that means that he will longs for the day when every problem doesn’t end up on his desk; that he will no longer be held responsible for things and random acts of violence and stupidity over which he has no control, nor the ability to forsee; that while being a Mayor is an important job, it does not grant omniscience and let you prevent pandemics, national recessions, take control of our health care system and more.
Being a public servant and elected official has its up sides. But it also means living under a spotlight, under a magnifying glass where you often have no hope of winning and somehow, the voices of the critics always seem so much louder than the supporters. I even had a “stalker” for a bit, who was trying to say he had no responsibility for paying taxes because he was a sovereign citizen, and kept trying to contact me personally. It was a little scary, to be honest, not knowing this person, or what their intentions were.
Yes, running for the job and accepting it means you “asked for it”; but I would also say that there’s no way anyone can really anticipate what this will mean until you are in the position yourself. Just like no woman “asks for it” when she wears clothing that later, people say meant she was asking for an assault, there’s no way most people elected to public office for the first time can really understand the scope of the job before them. It’s always a lot more work and stress than it looks from the outside. Just because your name is in the papers doesn’t make you any different, or more important or smarter or dumber than you were the day before. All it does is make you more stressed as you try to do the job, when everyone is standing around like Monday morning Quarterbacks, telling you how they could do it better.
We really treat our public officials horribly, and we’re lucky anyone chooses to run for office in the first place. Should any of us really be surprised that we see more and more of the most crass attention seekers who are interested in the spotlight more than doing the actual job running for office? That’s what we get when we chew up and spit out the people who do really care and try to do the right thing.
So I hope that somehow, Philadelphia will get over the fact that Mayor Kenney let a truth bomb slip and let you know that being the mayor is really hard. He may like the job, but he’s also honest that being able to sleep at night because you no longer have to worry about everything that happens will be a great night indeed.
I’m back to sleeping through the night, and waking up refreshed, something that didn’t happen for close to three years. I’m getting the opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and have a life back. While I’m glad a got a chance to serve, I do not miss being the lightning rod for everyone’s anger and frustrations at the world, especially in this day and age. And I sincerely hope this is the case for Mayor Kenney when he eventually leaves office as well.
Being honest shouldn’t be a crime. And we should all recognize this as a symptom that perhaps, there’s a better and kinder way to deal with public officials than full frontal attacks 24 x 7. We’re just people. And we all have bad days too. But remember- Your personal problems are likely nothing compared to having to deal with a City full of problems every day, hoping you can make headway and make a difference, but knowing that solutions are hard and take a long time. And no one will ever think the solution is good enough, fast enough or cheap enough.
So let’s cut the guy a break, huh?