Reform is in the air

Primary voters head to the polls in just over a month. As the campaigns heat up, the word “reform” is making an appearance right on cue.  More than one Philadelphia City Council candidate is running as a “reformer.”  Joe Grace is using the term in the First District.

And at-large candidate Andy Toy is also calling for reform. “The reform agenda is really about restoring people’s faith and their interest in city government,” said Toy. “That we’re doing the right things for them, and that we’re working in an open and transparent way for the general public.”

Toy has rolled out his “Council Reform Pledge” which would prohibit council members from holding outside jobs; end the council’s three-month summer recess; and require politicians to file campaign-finance reports more frequently. Megan Mullin, an assistant professor of political science at Temple University, said not all campaign promises will work equally well.

“I don’t think that voters are clamoring for council to meet all summer long,” she said. “I don’t think that the number of reporting periods for campaign-finance documentation is something that voters really care much about, but I think highlighting moonlighting and taxpayer-funded cars is a smart move.”

Overall, said Mullin, it’s a great year for reformers. “Voters are disgruntled.  The DROP program has gotten so much attention … people are continuing to struggle with finding jobs, the state is suffering huge budget problems, local governments are suffering budget problems,” said Mullin. “I think all incumbents need to watch their backs and making a case based on reform is a smart move in a year like this.” Zack Stalberg, the president of the watchdog group the Committee of 70, put things in perspective. “‘Reform’ is an easy word to throw around and these days just about everyone tries to hang the label on themselves,” he said. “Nobody runs as a Neanderthal or an ‘old hack,’ they all call themselves reformers.” Stalberg said given all the new council members who will be taking office, there’s a good chance a reformer who gets elected could really get something done.

A recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts Philadelphia Research Initiative found that the members of the Philadelphia City Council have served longer, on average, than their counterparts in the nation’s 10 largest cities.

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