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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

The Case for Malcolm Kenyatta

May 11, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

Malcolm Kenyatta. (Photo by Amanda Swiger).

The Pennsylvania primary is May 17. While the GOP race for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is still an open question, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is polling with a hefty lead among Democrats. Also in the Democratic field are U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

The best choice for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat is Malcolm Kenyatta. He is smart, compassionate, driven, dedicated, progressive and visionary. Kenyatta would be the best person to represent the state and further progressive policy positions in the Senate. He would become the fourth Black member of the Senate, joining Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (NJ) and Rafael Warnock (GA) and GOP Sen. Tim Scott (SC). Kenyatta would be the first openly gay man in Senate history and join current out senators lesbian Tammy Baldwin (WI) and bisexual Kyrsten Sinema (AZ). He would also be the youngest member of a largely over 60 Senate.

“I know that there are a lot of pundits who say Pennsylvania is just not ready to elect an openly gay Black man from North Philadelphia,” Kenyatta said in one recent debate. “But what those pundits never count on is you. Pennsylvania is more ready than the cynics believe.”

Kenyatta also argues that his working-class background growing up in North Philly makes him uniquely qualified to address the increasingly fraught class and economic issues of our time.

Kenyatta comes to the Senate race with strong progressive bona fides that include endorsements from the Working Families Party, the American Federation of Teachers and the SEIU Pennsylvania. SEIU represents health care, food industry and security workers and is one of the largest in the state.

Additionally, Kenyatta has progressive support throughout Philadelphia and the near suburbs, including among City Council members. Kenyatta has also made inroads in Chester County and in Pennsylvania’s rural towns where he has done strong on-the-ground campaigning.

Older Establishment Democrats like Mayor Kenney have chosen to support Lamb, who has boasted in debates that he is not afraid to vote against his party — which means with Republicans. In Lamb’s first term in the House his voting record was decidedly right-leaning and famously was one of only a handful of votes against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with the alternative being Republican Kevin McCarthy.

Lamb has been described as to the right of current Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and likened most often to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, except he is pro-choice. Like several of the GOP candidates, Lamb is running as a former military man. Among the pro-Lamb ads is a scurrilous takedown of Fetterman using GOP talking points about “socialism.” Lamb’s main argument for his election is that he’s almost like a Republican, so mid-state independents and soft GOP suburban moms will vote for him.

Yet Lamb’s numbers have not moved any more than Kenyatta’s have, which suggests no one is excited by his candidacy, which is supported more by anti-Fetterman sentiment than pro-Lamb sentiment.

But the actual best argument against the complicated candidacy of Fetterman, where a past racist incident has overshadowed his messaging, is Malcolm Kenyatta. Twenty years younger than Fetterman, Kenyatta speaks directly to a younger generation that needs vision and focus on issues like the climate crisis, which Kenyatta has spoken to most eloquently in debate.

The main issues Kenyatta champions are voting rights, health care reform and climate crisis. Kenyatta released a plan to “preserve democracy,” which includes ending the filibuster, expanding the Supreme Court and creating a Civilian Democracy Corps. He has called poverty “the moral and economic issue of our generation.”

He’s the only Democrat who supports a moratorium on new fracking sites and also wants a vote to abolish the Electoral College.

These are some arguments for Kenyatta. Additionally, the state has never had a person of color in the Senate. Philadelphia has not been represented in the Senate since Arlen Specter, who was a lifelong Republican. Kenyatta has stated repeatedly as he has campaigned and in debate that he is a true Democrat and a true progressive, and as such he is able to generate votes among progressives, young voters and Black voters, all of whom are central to winning what is arguably the most important Senate race of the midterms. And as a Philladelphian, Kenyatta could carry the city. The groups that Kenyatta has courted are people Democrats need to turn out come November where Philadelphia voters will be critical.

The grandson of the civil rights activist Muhammad I. Kenyatta, Kenyatta earned a BA degree in strategic communication from Temple University and a Master of Science in public communication from Drexel University. Kenyatta completed Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government as a David Bohnett Fellow. He began his career in community politics at 11 as a junior block captain.

In 2016 and 2020, he was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Kenyatta was selected as one of seventeen speakers to jointly deliver the keynote address at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

But like many Black candidates, Kenyatta has struggled to raise funds, entering the crucial final weeks of the campaign with less than $300,000 compared with $4.2 million for Fetterman and $2.2 million for Lamb. Were he to become the Democratic nominee, the cash would come pouring in.

Kenyatta has a proven track record of besting rivals in the past, having won in the 2017 primary against a field of five. He became the first openly-LGBTQ person of color elected to either chamber of the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the state’s history despite homophobic posters featuring him being put up prior to the election.

Kenyatta represents the district where he grew up, a neighborhood surrounding Temple University, where he lives with his husband, Matthew Miller.

The case for Malcolm Kenyatta is simple: America is changing. It’s no longer a straight white male political bastion. Pennsylvania is under direct threat from an increasingly extremist GOP legislature, and the nation itself is under threat from these same forces as has been made increasingly clear since the January 6 insurrection.

We need visionary Democrats. We need younger Democrats. We need senators who represent those whose marginalized status has suppressed their voices. In 2022 and beyond, we need Malcolm Kenyatta with his calm, compassionate demeanor that speaks directly to the people and for the people. Is a vote for him a risk? Not when so much is at stake. We need more than the status quo. We need a fresh, confident and commanding voice for change. Malcolm Kenyatta is that voice.

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