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What Mayor Kenney wants Philly tech to know about the election, census and online schooling

"This is a very weird year," Kenney told us during Philly Tech Week's Signature Event. Indeed.

A lil' trivia/interview moment during PTW20's Signature Event. (Screenshot)

This editorial article is a part of Civic Tech Month of's editorial calendar.

If you stopped by Thursday evening’s Signature Event during Philly Tech Week 2020, you probably caught the celebration of our Awards winners, some Philly-centric innovation trivia and a special guest — Mayor Jim Kenney.

He stopped by to chat with us for a few, whilst holed up in his Old City home because 1.) he’s quarantining and 2.) our usually huge and dance-filled end-of-PTW party was indeed virtual because 3.) it’s 2020 and nothing seems to makes sense anymore.

Between history Qs like “What science fiction author lived for a time is West Philly?” and “What’s the name of the first Black American to enter space?” Kenney (who was on day five of 14 in quarantine) popped in to speak to the team and event attendees about voting, social media and the census.

Hi, Mayor! (Screenshot)

Instead of reading his prepared remarks about Philly’s tech community, he talked off the cuff about what a rough year it’s been.

“This is a very weird year. I don’t want to ever repeat this year,” he told us. “And RBG gone, her passing away just put the, the — you know what it did.”

The mayor said he’s worried not about election day, but election night and the following days after the current president said he wouldn’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power post-election. (It’s worth noting that we may not know the winner for a few days, or even weeks, as The New York Times’ opinion writer-at-large Charlie Warzel said Wednesday during a keynote at’s Developers Conference.)

Kenney said the city’s also working hard on making sure its citizens’ participation in the election is as fair and honest it can be, with threats to mail-in voting, changing voting locations and the pandemic potentially keeping some in-person voters and poll workers home.

“The most important thing is to get their friends and family out to vote,” Kenney said. “This is not an election to stay home.”

And his message for the wider tech and entrepreneurship community?

He said he’d hope there’s some folks trying to find some innovative way to get people engaged in the census. The City loses about $22,000 a year for each person that doesn’t respond, he said — and that goes for undocumented immigrants, too. Under this administration, they might be especially afraid to participate because they’re not sure who’s knocking (though there are signs that can help them know if the person at their door is a census taker) or how their personal information will be used (though local nonprofits have been working to ease those fears).

“So trying to find a way,” Kenney said, “to make them feel safe about engaging in the census process” would be especially helpful.

But the thing the mayor said he worries about the most during this pandemic, and under controversial national leadership, is that some children aren’t getting the education they need.

“For every six months or a year that our kids fall behind, they’re losing ground. It’s challenging enough in a classroom setting, where resources are often strained, but having them at home or having parents have to leave them at an access center, is really disconcerting too,” he said. “And trying to figure out how to keep our kids on track to go to college, to get their lives on track is really what I worry about the most.”

Companies: City of Philadelphia
Series: Civic Tech Month 2020
People: James Kenney
Projects: Philly Tech Week

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