Councilman David Oh thinks Philly loses influence in Harrisburg because city officials must resign their seats if they want to campaign for any posts other than their own.
That “resign-to-run” clause in the city’s decades-old Home Rule Charter means a councilman must quit his job if he wants to campaign for mayor or Congress or governor. In fact, the way the charter is written, any municipal employees, elected or nonelected, who want to seek any other positions must resign first.
There are plenty of examples of resign-to-run requiring early departures from office. When Michael Nutter was a city councilman, he left his seat to run for mayor in 2007. Jason Dawkins, a nonelected aide to City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez (D-7th dist.), recently quit his job so he could challenge state Rep. James Clay (D-179th dist.) in the May primary.
Resign-to-run was considered good city government when it became law in 1951, Oh, an at-large Republican, told members of the Millbrook Civic Association on Jan. 28. But, for Philadelphians, “It reduces the volume of our voice and the power of our vote” in the larger political arena.
The result after more than 60 years is that Philadelphia, whose economy drives the state’s, is under-represented in state government, he said. “Philadelphia does not have the clout that it should have,” Oh said.
Philadelphia public officials who eye state, federal or other city seats don’t like the risk involved. Or the loss of income. A city official who quits to run for another office takes a gamble because he or she will be out of work and out of luck if the election is lost.
There are examples of that, too. One of the most outstanding goes all the way back to the early 1980s when Jimmy Tayoun, a very popular South Philadelphia Democrat, resigned his City Council seat early in a new term to run against U.S. Rep. Tom Foglietta. Tayoun lost, and he lost again when he tried two years later.
Also, Oh said, state or federal officeholders are not subject to the same rule. A state representative from Philadelphia, for example, is not a municipal employee and, therefore, doesn’t have to quit his or her job to go after another. Brendan Boyle did not have to resign his state House seat to run for Congress this year.
There are resign-to-run regulations in 45 states, Oh said Jan. 28. Philadelphia has the strictest, he added.
Voters have a chance to change that charter provision in the upcoming May primary election, the freshman councilman told the small Millbrook gathering at the Calvary Athletic Association on Deer Path Lane.
In December, City Council passed an Oh-introduced resolution to put the charter-change question before voters. The measure had nine co-sponsors. The election watchdog group The Committee of Seventy and other media reported Nutter opposes the change. State officials, the group reported, might likely oppose the charter change, too, because the current regulation works to their advantage by keeping down competition from city officeholders.
Taking some of the risk out of running for state office will involve more Philadelphians in state politics, and that’s good for the city, Oh said.
“It does us a disservice not to have Philadelphians on that [state] ballot,” Oh said.
The question before voters this spring involves only elected officials, not other municipal employees, Oh said.
If the charter had been changed in this way before Nutter decided to run for mayor, he wouldn’t have had to resign, but Dawkins still would have had to quit his City Hall job.
The charter change wouldn’t allow city officeholders to seek two seats at the same time, Oh said. That’s something other elected officials can do. Brendan Boyle, for example, is running for Congress and his state House seat in the same election this year.
Also, the question posed on the ballot states that the change won’t kick in until after the 2015 election.
Voters shot down a similar ballot question in 2007, 55-45 percent, The Committee of Seventy reported. ••