Mayor Jim Kenney’s right-hand man, Managing Director Brian Abernathy, is leaving his post in September following waves of criticism over how the city handled Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
Kenney repeatedly characterized Abernathy’s pending departure as a “mutual decision,” fueling speculation about what role the mayor had in his resignation. Kenney said the decision was not influenced by recent events.
“We had a discussion about it over a period of a couple weeks, and this is the decision we came to. Any other speculation is not accurate,” he said Tuesday. “This seemed to be the best path for him.”
Abernathy, who has been in the role since January 2019, became more visible to the public during the city’s response to the novel coronavirus and protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
As managing director, he oversees the day-to-day operations of many municipal departments, including the Philadelphia Police Department.
He has been increasingly targeted by activists, particularly after he admitted he was part of a group that approved the use of tear gas a day before police used chemicals on protesters June 1 on the Vine Street Expressway.
In June, during a City Council budget hearing, Abernathy said he was “out of touch” and underestimated the anger and frustration of protesters.
During the same meeting, he defended the use of tear gas, a decision for which Kenney apologized later in the month after a New York Times investigation. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has since put a “categorical moratorium” on using gas to break up crowds and protests.
Others have criticized Abernathy’s treatment of the homeless and have demonstrated outside his home in Northwest Philadelphia.
On Monday, during a rally at the homeless protest camp on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, housing advocate Jamaal Henderson, addressing a crowd of supporters, called Abernathy “a piece of f—ing sh–.”
“I’ve been very proud of the work that I’ve done for the city, and I’m leaving with my head high,” Abernathy said during a press briefing Tuesday. “But it’s time for me to move on, and it’s time for other voices to be heard at the table.”
He cast his departure as an opportunity to amplify diversity and said he acknowledges his privilege as a white man.
“Frankly, I hope that the next managing director is an African American, and maybe even an African American woman because I think it is important for this city to really turn the corner,” Abernathy said. “We have deep racial divides here, and I am painfully aware of that.”
Kenney did not commit to hiring a Black woman but said his administration would bring in the best candidate for the job.
In his resignation letter, Abernathy also said the last few months have been difficult for his family, and that the crises the city has been dealing with this year have taken a toll on him.
His resignation will be effective Sept. 4.
Prior to being elevated to his current role, Abernathy served as first deputy managing director and executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. He previously worked as an aide to former Councilman Frank DiCicco.
He said he was proud of the city’s coronavirus response, and, in his letter, pointed to his work improving conditions in Kensington; addressing homelessness; and helping establish Rebuild, a program funded by the soda tax to improve playgrounds, libraries and recreation centers.
Representatives from the Kenney administration said they plan to evaluate the Managing Director’s Office and plan a search for Abernathy’s successor.