Leveling the Playing Field for Philadelphia
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On May 20th, Primary Election Day, voters in Philadelphia will see a ballot question that will ask whether or not they want to reverse a law that has reduced our city’s influence for over 60 years. When the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter was written in 1951, they added a clause that says elected officials must resign from their current office in order to run for a new office – otherwise known as “Resign to Run.”
The intention of this clause was good. The lasting effects, however, include a stagnated field of elected officials in City Hall, and a deficit of clout in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. When the bulk of the funding for important issues like education, infrastructure and public transportation come from the state and federal governments, our city needs experienced, dedicated Philadelphia elected officials who are allowed to pursue a higher office.
To me, this is a no-brainer. Would I like to see a Philadelphia District Attorney run for State Attorney General? Yes. Would I like to see a Philadelphia Mayor run for Governor? You’d better believe it. Would I like to see some of our City Council members run for Congress? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the way the law is written, these people cannot run for higher office without giving up their current position, and giving up their position means giving up their service to the city and their constituents. This causes a couple of problems.
First and foremost, Philadelphia is the only city in Pennsylvania with such a restriction, which puts us at a disadvantage when competing against every other city and town in the Commonwealth. Everyone knows that the Mayor of Allentown threw his hat in the ring to run for Governor. And while he eventually withdrew, having his name as a potential candidate helped to boost the visibility of his town and allowed him to continue running Allentown as its Mayor, taking advantage of some new found glory. Second, handcuffing our elected officials ultimately results in them never leaving office and not allowing room for fresh ideas to enter our system through newly elected people. Someone who has held elected office for more than two decades rarely has the same enthusiasm and revolutionary ideas that they once had earlier in their career. But maybe, if they were able to run and win elections to higher office, their enthusiasm would be renewed and an opportunity for a younger and equally ambitious person would open up at the city level.
I know what you are thinking. Let me assuage your fears. If an elected official wants to run for a different office without resigning, they would still be held to the same ethical standards of doing so on their own time, not on city time. In fact, when an incumbent runs for re-election, they cannot do that on city time, either. Whether running for re-election or for a higher office, the elected official still serves their constituents during the day, in an official capacity, and runs their campaign in the evenings and weekends. Also, under the proposed charter change to prevent “double dipping”, if an elected official wants to run for higher office, they cannot run for re-election to their current office at the same time.
The bottom line is that removing this barrier on our elected officials is good for Philadelphia. It allows our most dedicated and talented elected people to move their agendas to the next level with the needs of Philadelphia in mind while making way for the next generation of elected officials to follow in their footsteps. As the only “City of the First Class” in Pennsylvania and the largest economic engine within our Commonwealth, the time has come to level the playing field and allow Philadelphia to have the influence that we deserve in order to continue growing and making our city an even better place to work, live and play.
Chris Pienkowski is a life-long Philadelphian who graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and built a career in the private sector before heeding the call of public service and becoming the Director of Legislation and Communications for Councilman At-Large David Oh. His musings about public policy, political insanity, random Philly facts and the ups and downs of being a dad to three active boys under the age of 10 can be seen @chrispienkowski