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There is an important question on the ballot on May 20. City Council wants to change the City Charter to eliminate the requirement that Council members and other city elected officials resign if they want to run for another political office.
This policy has been in effect since the City Charter was enacted by the voters in 1951, and it has served the city well. You should vote no on Question No. 2, which will be in the middle on the voting machines, below the candidates.
The resign-to-run requirement is good public policy. When a vote comes up on City Council, in whose interest should members vote? In the interest of the voters who elected them, or in the interest of the voters who will vote in the election for the position that they would rather have? Or, worse, in the interest of the special interests that would finance the campaign for the position they would rather have?
This question is emblematic of what is wrong with our city. We have been governed for more than a half-century by a professional political class that cares not at all about you, but only about getting reelected and amassing political power. Instead of doing the job they were elected to do, Council members want to continue to collect their six-figure salaries while campaigning full time for the job they would rather have.
In a recent Philadelphia Magazine article focusing on potential candidates for mayor, two Council members, Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria Quiñones Sanchez, cited the problem of having to resign their Council jobs as a hindrance to running for mayor. Isn’t that the case with someone who is employed in the private sector? Why should our money be used by them to further their political careers? Yes, it’s time-consuming to run for office, but they should not get paid by the taxpayers for a job they are not performing.
Another factor to consider is that Philadelphia is the only municipality in the state with campaign contribution limits. Eliminating resign-to-run would allow improper manipulation of the system. With no contribution limits, a Council member could run for a different office, even if not a serious contender. The money could be spent primarily in his or her present district to increase name recognition and favorable ratings.
Incumbents all over the country, at every level of government, have too much power. Only a handful of races are deemed competitive. This is not good for our democracy. If those governing us do not have to seriously campaign for their positions, they don’t have to moderate their views to appeal to a broader range of voters. As a result, they become less concerned about what is in the voters’ best interests. That is certainly what is happening in Philadelphia right now. And our Council members want us to give them even more power? This change is as wrong as it was to allow city elected officials to cash in on the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP).
Philadelphia doesn’t need more Council members running for other offices. What Philadelphia needs is public officials who commit to doing their jobs. Council members can prove their suitability for another position by doing what is right for the city. They can demonstrate integrity by serving out the terms voters entrusted to them. Don’t forget, resign-to-run did not hinder Ed Rendell’s ability to be elected governor.
What is most shameful and least surprising about this charter question is that Council voted to put this on the ballot unanimously. They are united in not caring about you.
Michael Nutter resigned from Council to run for mayor. He also vetoed this ballot question, but Council members voted – again, unanimously – to override his veto. Fortunately, they don’t have the final say. Voters do, and they rejected a similar proposal in 2007. This year’s voters should follow that example, and the mayor’s, by telling Council no on this latest power grab.
Matt Wolfe is a Republican candidate in the May 20 special election for an at-large City Council seat.