Kenney is too fil-A himself

Posted: August 06, 2012

George Parry is a former state and federal prosecutor practicing law in Philadelphia

Vast expanses of Philadelphia are crumbling, postindustrial wastelands bordered by neighborhoods ravaged by drugs and mindless violence. Our schools are failing, and revenue-producing private commerce is leaving as our feckless city government leads us on an economic death spiral of high taxes, excessive spending, and onerous government regulation.

So, when confronted by one of the nation's highest murder rates, rampant street crime, a declining economy, and an eroding tax base, to what should City Council devote its time and resources?

Why, jolly-stomping Chick-fil-A restaurants, of course.

Dan Cathy, president of the Atlanta-based, family-owned fast-food chain, was recently quoted in the Baptist Press as being "very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family." He followed up with a radio interview in which he said that he prays for "God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about."

In other words, like millions of ordinary, normal, and thoroughly decent Americans, Cathy opposes same-sex marriage.

As did President Obama, until he recently "evolved" on the subject.

You might think that in a pluralistic society open to the free exchange of ideas, where free speech is supposedly protected by law, Cathy would be able to publicly express an opinion shared by millions, as well as our "pre-evolved" president, without fear of official retaliation.

But if you think that, you are wrong. His remarks have set off a nationwide panderfest by liberal urban politicians eager to score points with their lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender constituents.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel castigated Cathy for not having "Chicago's values," while Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno has vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in his district. And Chick-fil-A had better stay out of Boston, where Mayor Thomas Menino promised that business licenses would be "very difficult" for it to obtain.

But, for truly ludicrous, over-the-top, "hey-gay-people-look-at-me" antics, no one can beat our very own City Councilman Jim Kenney.

In a letter to the company president, Kenney said he plans to introduce a Council resolution condemning Cathy and his restaurant chain for promoting what he calls "intolerance and hate." The councilman tells Cathy to "take a hike and take your intolerance with you."

At first glance, one might be tempted to dismiss Kenney's fulminations as just another example of a typical Philadelphia politician harmlessly currying favor with LGBT voters. But, in the context of Philadelphia's social and economic decline, the damaging effects of Kenney's pronouncements and the proposed resolution should not be so facilely discounted.

This may come as a news flash to Kenney and the other Rhodes scholars over at City Hall, but businesses aren't exactly breaking down the doors to set up shop in Philadelphia. Could it be that, in addition to the uncompetitive tax structure, rampant crime, and dismal city services, many entrepreneurs — like, say, Dan Cathy — sense that Philadelphia has a poor to outright hostile business climate?

Mind you, Chick-fil-A hasn't broken the law or denied service to homosexuals. And, by all accounts, its seven Philadelphia locations are clean, well-run, and provide badly needed jobs and tax revenues. But none of this appears to count for much as Kenney thunders his outrage at Cathy's purportedly bigoted opinions.

To sane people whose brains have not been marinated in the polluted brine of Philadelphia politics, Kenney may appear to be in need of a nice, long rest in quiet surroundings. Fear not. By the calculus of our own cynical brand of pander politics, Kenney's actions are a perfectly logical attempt to hustle votes. This undoubtedly explains the cleat marks left on Cathy's face as Kenney raced to publicly thump his chest on behalf of the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, back in America, commercial enterprises considering a move to Philadelphia may well be watching and wondering whether Kenney's tirade will be followed by punitive measures by the city's regulatory agencies. After all, isn't that the Philadelphia way?

Keep in mind that Chick-fil-A has more than 1,600 restaurants in 39 states and the District of Columbia, and sales of $4.1 billion in 2011, and will open an additional 92 locations nationwide this year. In other words, it has no overwhelming financial reason to stick around and let Kenney and City Council use it as a pinata.

Between Chick-fil-A and Philadelphia, who would be hurt more if the food chain actually followed Kenney's tough-guy directive to "take a hike" and boarded up its restaurants in the city? Isn't Philadelphia benefiting from the jobs, economic stimulus, and tax revenues provided by the chain?

On a broader front, do Kenney and City Council think that imposing an ad hoc speech code on private citizens and officially stigmatizing them for daring to exercise their right to free speech will help draw commercial enterprises to our town?

What lessons should outside entrepreneurs take from this disgraceful exercise, and how many more businesses have to be hectored, bullied, or even chased away by our buffoonish political class before Philadelphians finally wake up?

Welcome to Philadelphia, the city that loves you back — as long as you keep your yap shut and don't try exercising any of your so-called constitutional rights.

E-mail George Parry at LGParry@dpt-law.com.

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