Opportunity awaits as Philadelphia City Council members resign to run for mayor

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s term will end in 2024 – just around the corner. With five Council members planning to succeed Kenney and rumors of Council Chairman Darrell Clarke retiring, the Council will face a power vacuum rife with opportunity.

As it stands, four Democratic Council members have seniority to replace Clarke: Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Cindy Bass and Curtis Jones. Why is seniority necessary? Technically, this is not the case. But Philly has a “wait your turn” political style. And, of the four council members who meet the seniority criteria, only Bass and Jones are jostling to replace council chairman, according to The Philadelphia Citizen.

What may differentiate them is that Jones has been in charge for two consecutive terms. First as Majority Leader and now as Majority Whip. Neither matter because the City Council is 88% Democrat. It is rarely necessary to whip votes and bring colleagues together because, with this composition, there is almost always a consensus. And when there isn’t, the rally is usually done by the bill’s main sponsor. Thus, the direction of the Council, in addition to the presidency of the Council, is unnecessary. But, despite their futility, these roles are still envied, which speaks volumes about Jones’ ability to fuse his colleagues.

To be clear, Council leadership is desirable not for power (there is none), but for increased wages.

This year, the base salary for a Council member is $142,751.

Deputy Majority Whip: $145,664.

Majority Whip: $150,034.

Majority Leader: $152,947.

Chairman of the Board: $179,167.

It’s not the most money in the world, but it’s attractive to a Council that is bourgeois enough to need their salaries – except for Council member Allan Domb who is donating his. Having twice appealed to his co-workers for these desirable roles gives Jones a clear advantage in his bid for the presidency of the Council. That he can influence the new members of the Council will make the difference.

Regarding the new members, it is expected that at least five will resign from the Council to run for mayor. On that list are Domb Council members Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Cherelle Parker, Derek Green and Helen Gym, whose resignations would free up eight committee chairs. This includes Committees on Appropriations, Education, Labor and Public Service, Law and Government, Fiscal Stability and Intergovernmental Cooperation, Finance, Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs, and Children and young people.

Between their resignation and the installation of their successors, the vice-presidents of these committees generally take over by default. But even then, there will still be three committees – Law and Government, Education and People with Disabilities and Special Needs – which will not have a chair and vice-chair because both will be running for mayor.

You’re probably wondering – what’s the focus on committee chairs? Chairs have an unspoken but well-understood patent on matters under the supervision of their committee. Call it presidential deference. This deference is not exercised in the same way that committee chairs of other legislative bodies might use it. Elsewhere, they are using their position to block legislation from being heard. It is rare in the Council. But when, for example, the Licensing and Inspection Department has a problem to bring to the Board, it deals almost expressly with the chairman of the Licensing and Inspection Committee.

And even when a department turns to a council member who is not its chair, it is directed to its committee chair – lest the chair accuse that council member of snubbing his authority as President. You can think of presidential deference as an adjacent advisory prerogative. And that also extends to stakeholders.

I have seen many people succeed in lobbying Council members and persuading them that whatever issue they are advocating for, action is worth taking. But if it doesn’t matter to the committee that board member chairs, they’ll refer the stakeholder to whoever chairs the relevant committee. One of the few times this won’t happen is when the matter is too juicy to let another Council member fly.

But, when presidential deference is respected – as is most often the case – it affords presidents a great deal of influence, namely when more influential departments are under the scrutiny of their committee – such as the Ministry of Health, the police department, the street department, etc. . So when these five Council members leave, that control will be in different hands. There will be new power brokers with deference to the important problem sects of our city.

Internally, it will be quite an adjustment because when small institutions, like our 17-member City Council, lose members and gain new ones, that fundamentally changes. But this adjustment will be for the best. The old guard lacks the ingenuity to solve the problems we face. Our city would be better off with a fresh breeze of young ideators like Council members Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore-Richardson who both arrived strong in their first terms, which is unusual for first-year members.

The Council’s more than 40-year veteran, Council Member Brian O’Neill, said the same while applauding Clarke for “allowing first-term members to participate at the level that they do.” Because, as he continued jokingly, “You couldn’t participate in your Fourth term not so long ago and particularly at this level.

Already, Gilmore-Richardson has established the Philly Tree Fund to restore our city’s tree canopy, and she’s given graduates of career technical education programs a head start in securing jobs. And whether you agree or not, Thomas called on his colleagues to end minor traffic stops that disproportionately affected black people. Then the two joined forces to introduce legislation to reduce corporate income and revenue tax and payroll tax. Beasts, those two.

And that’s what happens when you give young people the space to be great. We need to vote more of them into office. But therein lies the catch: Philadelphians must vote. Lest we have another legislative session where Council members do nothing but introduce a slew of resolutions celebrating such trivial occasions as National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

Let’s be careful who we choose to replace these five Council members.

Jemille Q. Duncan is a public policy professional and student at Swarthmore College. He is the former aide to two Philadelphia City Council members and a Pennsylvania state senator.

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