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Phila. Council Committee Approves Resign-To-Run Charter Change Question

(Philadelphia city councilman David Oh.  File photo by Mike Dunn)

(Philadelphia city councilman David Oh. File photo by Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia city councilmembers are again at odds with the Nutter administration.  This time they’re clashing over a Council plan to eliminate the City Charter requirement that an elected official resign to run for another office.

The sponsor of the plan, councilman-at-large David Oh, said the 60-year old “resign to run” provision of the city charter simply does not work.

“The resign-to-run law results in dishonesty,” Oh says.  “People are running for office, they just won’t say that they are.   They’re raising money and they’re not saying what they’re raising it for.  If that’s the case, we should get rid of this law, so they can be honest and transparent.”

His colleague, councilman Bill Greenlee, pointed out that state and federal politicians need not resign to campaign for another office.

“State elected officials, federally elected officials do not have to leave their office.  But city officials do,” Greenlee said.
The result, according to Oh, is an uneven playing field.

“The resign-to-run law creates less democracy, not more,” Oh said.  “There are fewer qualified candidates.  The people of Philadelphia have less voice than any other voter in this commonwealth.”

Oh proposes a ballot referendum asking voters if they want to eliminate the city charter’s resign-to-run provision.   In the fine print is a caveat: while an official could retain their current office during a campaign, he or she could not appear on a ballot twice.   That means, for example, that a city councilman running for mayor could complete their term but could not also run for Council while seeking the mayor’s job.

Also, any such change would not take effect until after the 2015 mayor’s race, so current councilmembers who run for mayor would have to resign, as required by current law.

Opposing the entire plan is current mayor, Michael Nutter, who did resign his City Council job to run for mayor.  Testifying for him at the hearing was the city’s chief integrity office, Joan Markman (below).

(Philadelphia chief integrity officer Joan Markman testifies before City Council's Law and Goverment Committee.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Philadelphia chief integrity officer Joan Markman testifies before City Council’s Law and Goverment Committee. Image from City of Phila. TV)

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“This is a solution looking for a problem,” Markman told the Council committee.

She argued that a campaign is a distraction, and elected officials should have to choose between doing their job or campaigning:

“There’s a much bigger distraction by running for a different office while you’re currently serving for office than you would have if you resigned from your current office.  The administration comes down on the side of asking people who work for the City of Philadelphia to focus their attention on the jobs they were paid to do.”

But councilman Wilson Goode argued that campaigning is a very different thing in 2013 than it was in the early ’50s, when the charter was written, so tackling both tasks is more feasible now.

“Campaigns are run much differently 60 years later,” Goode said.   “A lot of campaigns — particularly for higher office, which I’m assuming this bill is about — are mostly media campaigns.”

Oh’s measure was approved unanimously in committee and now goes to the full Council for a final vote next month.  Oh’s hope is that the question would be put to voters in next May’s primary.

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