Proposal to strike Philly’s ‘resign to run’ mandate goes to voters

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Philadelphia voters will have the chance to decide whether to allow an exclusive club of city employees some new flexibility when it comes to running for public office. 

In the Tuesday primary election, one of three Philadelphia ballot questions will ask voters for their approval to change the city charter to end the “resign to run” rule.

Philadelphia’s City Charter demands that elected officials resign their position to run for a new office.  Many blame the restriction for encouraging politicians to stay put instead of trying for higher office. Councilman David Oh introduced the charter change amendment, saying it could increase the city’s political influence statewide.”When they don’t engage in statewide politics — governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, that sort of thing — they are not out there engaging people and politicians around the state about what Philadelphia brings to the table,” said Oh. “So, win or lose, that advocacy is important to us.

“If they win, we have someone in a statewide position of power who is able to look at Philadelphia as part of the solution to the state’s problems,” he said.City Councilman Jim Kenney’s name has been thrown around as a possible candidate for mayor.  He hasn’t made any announcement about his intentions because they would require resigning his seat. Seven years ago, Kenney tried and failed to change the “resign to run” rule.

“I just think it makes it more difficult to get involved in public life when they have to jump off a cliff without a parachute,” he said.

“Most of my decision-making process in my future is based on economics,” Kenney continued. “I’m not Tom Wolf, I don’t have the ability to write a check and fund my campaign and pay my bills and pay my daughters’ tuition and do everything everyone else has to do. To expect somebody to give everything up and run for an office they aren’t sure they are going to win is asking a big thing.”A risk that’s par for the course in politics, says Nutter

In 2006, Mayor Michael Nutter did just that, leaving his council seat to run for mayor.  Even so, he thinks the rule should stay.”I resigned in June of 2006 and the primary was in May.  For my own particular candidacy, I needed more time than others who have more traditionally resigned in November or December. Every one has to make their own decision, and it’s a tough decision, no question about it,” Nutter said. 

“You are taking income out of your household, you are not going to have a job for a while, it’s risky but that’s the way it goes in politics.”  Council President Darrell Clarke, also said to be mulling a run for mayor, has lobbied to make sure the charter change would prohibit candidates from running for mayor and council at the same time. “I think that is a challenge,” he said. “As a person who actually went through that when I ran for a special election and for the nomination for my full four-year term council seat, it is somewhat of a challenge. It almost caused me to lose my four year term.”Now it’s up to the voters to decide if they want to give politicians the freedom to run for a second job while keeping the one they have. Kenney said he’s not optimistic that voters will go for it.”I don’t think it’s going to pass … I tried this seven years ago or whatever it was and it went down,” he said. “I hope people vote for it but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.”Matt Wolfe, the Republican candidate in a special election for an at-large City Council seat, said he opposes the change. He said he sees it as a power grab for the current members of City Council.”The current rule is good public policy,” Wolfe said. “The change they want to make is bad public policy and it’s calculated simply to increase the power of the people who voted unanimously for it and not in the interest of the voters.” That, he said, is “typical of the way the city’s been run for the past 60 years.”If the change is approved it will not apply to next year’s mayoral contest, so it would not help the next crop of would-be mayors on council.

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