By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council chambers were packed this morning as the lawmakers launched their 2012 legislative session.
At the helm, a new Council president, Darrell Clarke:
“Council will come to order, members will take their seats, and visitors will take their seats outside the rails. I only hope I said that as good as President Verna did.”
Clarke succeeds the retired Anna Verna, who had been Council president since 1999.
“To my new colleagues: Guys, you are in for one heck of a ride,” Clarke said as he formally welcomed the six freshmen councilmembers who constitute the largest turnover on Council since 1991.
(Dunn:) “So how did the gavel feel? Are you getting used to that?”
(Clarke:) “I gotta get used to a couple of things. Standing up at the big chair is actually… there’s actually a little more going on than I anticipated.”
Still, the biggest issues for Council this legislative session are anything but new.
Clarke has said that his priority will be avoiding new tax increases.
“To broaden our revenue base, using some creative measures that will put us in a position where we will not be looking to increase any taxes in this upcoming year. Our initial response to most of the problems that we’ve experienced during this downturn has simply been to raise taxes, fees, and fines. We have to do things differently.”
The vexing problems facing Council and Mayor Nutter this session include trying to help out the deficit-ridden Philadelphia School District, and moving to a new property assessment system.
Factoring into any resolution of those issues is a big uncertainty: how well Clarke — in his new role as president — will work with Nutter.
“I’m prepared to work with Mayor Nutter,” says Clarke. “I think that people’s willingness to work together is real, is strong.”
The mayor, for his part, isn’t worried:
“Council President Clarke and I have known each other for 20-plus years. I think that has somehow passed everyone’s attention.”
Another uncertainty is the impact of six new councilmembers, and those freshmen lawmakers may be looking to make their marks right out of the gate.
The six new members are Mark Squilla of the First District, Kenyatta Johnson of the Second District, Bobby Henon of the Sixth District, Cindy Bass of the Eighth District — all Democrats — and two Republican at-large councilmen, David Oh and Denny O’Brien.
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Councilman Bill Green, who was a freshman four years ago, expects the six newcomers to be extremely active.
“I hope that the freshmen come in and rock the boat. It’s six new people, which is over a third of the body. It’s a great big new energy.”
And overall, Green — often one of the mayor’s staunchest critics — expects a tumultuous legislative session:
“There’s a lot of controversial stuff that’s going to come up. And this new Council is going to be put to the test.”