Northeast Times

Councilman discusses Philly’s voice with Millbrook Civic

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.

Why?

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. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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