Desperately Seeking Leadership: Philadelphia’s Next Mayor

The next mayor’s race is still two years away, but the field is shaping up to be a depressing array of hacks and usual suspects. Maybe it’s time to call Philadelphia’s civic leadership exactly what it is: Cowardly and pathetic.

What’s needed—somehow, some way—is disruption, a candidacy or three from outside the ranks of the usual suspects. The city is so desperate for new voices that Dana Spain, a socialite with a thin résumé, generates big waves when she mentions the possibility of a run. Think of the buzz that a more accomplished female executive, like Rosemary Turner at UPS or Renée Cardwell Hughes at the American Red Cross, would instantly generate. Imagine what education activist Helen Gym could do at a mayoral debate. Or consider the reverential press that Comcast’s David L. Cohen or Center City District’s Paul Levy would enjoy. And then there are veterans of government—but not politics—who would enter the race with serious credibility, if less instant name recognition, like current managing director Richard Negrin or former managing director Loree Jones, or accomplished deputy mayor for environmental and community resources Michael DiBerardinis.

They all have reasons not to run. For some, the odds of victory are low. For others, the pay cut is prohibitive. At least a few fear retribution from the professional political class they’re being prodded to challenge. And many seem truly convinced they can achieve more from where they are now than from the second floor of City Hall.

Talk to some of them, and you get it. It’s easy to understand why they would choose to stay out of the fray. But that decision, taken over and over again, is nothing less than a tacit capitulation of the city’s best and brightest to a parochial political class.

Which raises a few questions for the capable, charismatic and accomplished leaders in this city: Do you see a candidate in the current field worthy of leading Philadelphia? Can that candidate win? If the answer to either query is “no,” then I have one other question to ask: What are you doing about it?

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