Councilmanic prerogative has been very harmful to Philadelphia. It is unfortunate that it has been written into the new zoning code. City Council members should be legislators and only legislators, not mini-executives in their districts competing with the “real” executive. Councilmanic prerogative is more often than not used by council members to enhance their reelection chances, rewarding political friends and contributors and punishing political enemies. I had one prominent developer say that he would not donate money to me unless he could pay cash and not have it reported because he felt that his district council member would retaliate against him. Needless to say, I declined his generous but illegal offer.
It goes beyond the zoning area. I have heard from constituents who have gone to a council member or city agency for help and been told that they have to go through their district council member. The political nature of the use of councilmanic prerogative also brings up federal civil rights violations, as the law does not permit council members to use the power of the government to gain a political advantage. There is litigation presently pending on that issue. They are costing the city litigation expenses and it is only a matter of time before damages are awarded. Councilman Kenyatta Johnson lost a civil rights suit when he influenced the city to cancel the sale of a property to a real estate developer who had opposed him politically. Last year that same councilman influenced the city to sell city-owned vacant properties at below-market prices to a childhood friend and campaign contributor with a criminal past. That supporter quickly flipped them at a $165,000.00 profit that should have gone to the city.
The bottom line is that I will absolutely vote on the merits of ordinances regardless of the position of the district council member.