This week Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney accused restaurant owners in the city of being indifferent to the deaths of thousands of people.
“If we had listened to restauranteurs two years ago, we’d have (an additional) 2,000 people dead in the city,” he said at a recent news conference. “They didn’t want to close anything down.”
Is he right? Maybe. No one is really sure. Even despite the draconian COVID-19 rules that have been imposed on the city’s businesses since 2020, hospitalizations and deaths per capita in mandate-happy states like Pennsylvania, let alone Philadelphia, are not significantly different than in less restricted places such as Texas and Florida.
So, who in Philadelphia has suffered the brunt of these mandates? It’s the city’s restaurants and their employees. And they’re not very happy about it.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Nicole Marquis, CEO and founder of Hip City Veg, told a local news station in response to the mayor’s comments. “It seems a little insensitive and out of touch to say something like that especially when restaurants are the lifeblood of the city and have been through so much.”
“Unfortunately, we have a mayor who refuses to work with us,” Marc Vetri, who runs several popular eateries in the city, wrote on Instagram. “What a shame he takes this view.”
Our city’s restaurants were locked down at the beginning of the pandemic only to have limitations imposed on the number (if any) of diners they were allowed to seat inside and where they could sit. The mayor introduced mandated requirements to improve ventilation systems. He’s resisted making outdoor dining options permanent.
When the omicron variant surged, Mayor Kenney again took his fears out on the city’s eateries by not allowing them to serve unvaccinated people and requiring the wearing of masks. (The vaccination mandate was lifted last week.)
Philadelphia’s restaurants have suffered as a result. Revenues have dramatically decreased. Employees have been laid off. In a January survey by the National Restaurant Association, 93 percent of eateries in Pennsylvania – many of them in Philadelphia – reported experiencing a hit to indoor dining.
In response to the mandates, 56 percent of restaurants cut hours on days they were open, 59 percent closed on days they normally would be open, 22 percent reduced seating capacity and 9 percent pivoted to temporarily offering only takeout. In Philadelphia, the number of jobs is down more than 10 percent since 2019.
And do these restrictions even work? For instance, does wearing a mask when walking to the bathroom prevents COVID even when every other person in a crowded dining room is unmasked at their table?
Does Kenney understand the legitimate reasons why some choose not to get vaccinated and does he think these unvaccinated people are “killing” others, even when we know that most people – even children – who got jabbed don’t get very sick from COVID? Are customers not free to choose where they want to eat and employees free to choose where they want to work, particularly when countless businesses are begging to hire workers?
More importantly, why are Philly’s restaurants targeted when hundreds of thousands of people have been allowed to attend Eagles, Phillies, Sixers and Flyers games, and go to theaters, dance clubs, parties and other crowded activities with many fewer restrictions? Where’s the proof that restaurants are spreading COVID?
No one seems to know. Not even Mayor Kenney (who was embarrassingly caught eating mask-less in a Maryland restaurant while his COVID rules on Philadelphia’s restaurants were still in effect) can say for sure. But he’s a Democratic mayor in an overwhelmingly Democratic city with a very vocal leftwing, so he had to do something, right?
So instead of giving restaurant owners the choice of how to run their businesses (and many prominent restauranteurs still currently choose to require vaccinations), the mayor forces them to comply. Why? It’s good PR. It’s a nod to the vocal leftwing (more than 80 percent of Philadelphia residents voted for President BidenJoe BidenTrump tears into Biden as he moves toward 2024 campaign Biden says he hopes his legacy ‘is that I restored the soul of this country’ Cyber officials urge federal agencies to armor up for potential Russian attacks MORE in 2020) who demand to be heard.
None of this should surprise the city’s small businesses. Kenney has never been their friend. He famously imposed a soda tax that shut grocery stores and then required restaurants to accept cash. He’s waffled on wage tax cuts despite an enormous budget surplus created by Washington’s COVID largess. He’s championed an extension of paid sick leave legislation and required employers to provide a “fair workweek” and higher minimum wages.
He’s bowed to the far left on police reform while watching helplessly as customers stick to their suburbs amid an unprecedented rise in the city’s crime rates. He’s been on duty as the city’s homeless population has grown, along with attacks on citizens and shoppers. He completely mishandled the city’s vaccine rollout, further delaying recovery.
Many Philadelphia small business owners know what he’s all about. And they’re counting the days until he’s no longer in office.
Gene Marks is founder of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm. He frequently appears on CNBC, Fox Business and MSNBC.