Democrat Jim Kenney is running for re-election as mayor of the nation's sixth largest city, facing two challengers critical of his handling of the rising homicide rate, ongoing opioid epidemic and his signature achievement, a soda tax that's helping provide free preschool classes.
Kenney has had an eventful first term, antagonizing President Donald Trump over Philadelphia's sanctuary city status and carrying out the tax on soda and other sweetened drinks, inspiring several other cities around the country to enact their own.
Two longtime city political figures are running against him in the Democratic primary Tuesday. They are state Sen. Anthony Williams, who has served three decades in the state House and Senate combined, and Alan Butkovitz, the former city controller, who was defeated in 2017.
Both have derided the soda tax as regressive and want to see it repealed. They say Kenney, 60, hasn't done enough to combat crime and other major problems plaguing the city.
Philadelphia is a heavily Democratic city, where the winner of the primary is all but assured of victory in the fall election. Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 7-1, and the city has not elected a Republican mayor in nearly 70 years. Billy Ciancaglini was running unopposed in the GOP primary.
No incumbent mayor has lost a bid for re-election in seven decades and Kenney doesn't seem concerned. In a radio interview, he called his challengers "annoying gnats."
The soda tax has been a flashpoint in the election.
It has generated more than $130 million, which is paying for free preschool programs and other community services like revamped recreation centers and libraries, initiatives Kenney has touted during the campaign.
The 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened beverages, levied at the distributor level, has been criticized by some consumers and businesses. But it has withstood court challenges and a public relations onslaught by grocers and the beverage industry.
A study found that Philadelphia's 2017 tax led to a 38% decline in sugary soda and diet drink sales that year, even when taking into account an increase in sales in neighboring towns. It bolsters evidence that soda taxes can