Ballot Question: Why “Resign to Run” Should Be Killed

Councilman David Oh says it’s an obstacle to good governance — and it’s never accomplished what it was supposed to.

Oh_largeCouncilman David Oh is the man behind a measure on your primary ballot May 20th; Philadelphia voters will be asked whether to revise the city’s “Resign to Run” rule that requires elected and appointed city officials to resign before running for any other office in the land.

Oh and his allies say tweaking the rule might allow politicians who have already gathered some clout and experience at, say, City Hall, to more easily run for a state office and give the city more clout in Harrisburg. (Opponents suggest it could lead to grandstanding and worse.) As it stands, Oh’s allies say, “Resign to Run” encourages officials to stick with safe seats instead of using their experience to seek higher offices and advocate for the city from that vantage.

Oh talked to Philly Mag about the measure last week.




How exactly will the rule be different under your changes?

The change will be that elected officials — and elected officials only —will be able to run for another position without first resigning. The second thing is that they will not be able to be on the ballot for two positions. Only one. … You cannot run for re-election and another position simultaneously. The other thing is that it would take effect in 2016, which skips this mayoral election. So, it would not take affect until after the mayoral election.

The complaint that I've heard from people who liked the old "Resign to Run" system is that they don't want to be paying their councilman while they're basically spending all their time networking and plotting to run for mayor. How do you limit abuse under the system you just described?

What the people are saying is, "Well, we don't want to pay you for campaigning." Well, you don't pay me for campaigning, just like you don't pay me to take my kids to the zoo. You don't pay me to go to church. In other words, you pay me to do my job, but my job is not 24 hours, 7 days a week. We don't expect that of anybody. It is a difficult job. It requires long hours, but yeah I do have things that I do on my own time and most elected officials, even if they are candidates, they're not only candidates. They usually have different positions that they fulfill in the community or political positions with the party … that [are] not affected by "Resign to Run".

Because this is Philly, I can imagine  people will find a way to abuse or torture the intent of this. And one of the ways I can see it is perhaps you get somebody established who, because they can now wait until the filing deadline for announcing, maybe can keep a seat open for an immediate ally instead of themselves. Is there a way to prevent those kinds of abuses?

The thing is, those abuses occur currently. The reason why a "Resign to Run" is out of favor across the country is because, primarily, it's ineffective. In other words, are there people in Philadelphia who are pretty much running for mayor right now? Yeah. Are they raising money for mayor? Yeah. Can they say they're running for mayor? No. Do they say they're running for mayor? No. So, the reason why, across the country, over the years, "Resign to Run" has fallen out of favor is primarily because it's ineffective. In other words, whoever wants to run for a higher position is doing that right now and they are spending their time and efforts to basically plot and plan and raise money to run for another position. They're doing it right now without announcing. So, it's ineffective and it promotes dishonesty.

An earlier attempt to kind of repeal "Resign to Run" failed a couple years ago. Why do you think voters might find it more appealing this time?

Well, one is because when it was done five years ago, it was done in conjunction with an ongoing race. It was introduced by Councilman Kenney, who was openly looking at running for mayor. And it was done after Councilman Michael Nutter resigned and people were very suspicious that it was politically motivated and not motivated by good government. The other thing is that right now it has been put out into the public discussion. And so people are more able to look at the policy reasons as to what it actually is. You know, has it made Philadelphia politicians more ethical? Nobody would say yes.

You've clashed a little bit with your fellow Republicans on this. The current Republican candidate for the open council  seat, Matthew Wolfe, has also spoken ill of this effort. What do your fellow Republicans not understand?

My fellow Republicans have the perspective of being Republican Ward leaders where they are outnumbered 6 and a half to one. And they generally look at the problems of the city as being the fault of the Democrats. And when we are looking at amending "Resign to Run" to empower Philadelphia, to at least put it on a level playing field, you could also say that that's empowering Democratic elected officials to be stronger advocates [since] they would have more clout in Harrisburg and have an ability to push, more effectively, a resolution of problems that have been long-standing in Philadelphia. I think those are partisan perspectives and those are appropriate for a political party.

It is better to look at every other city and county in this state. They do not have horrible problems. If you empower those who speak for, advocate for, fight for and understand the complexities of Philadelphia, a city and county, to be at the table, to present our ideas, to be part of discussion, to advocate for why Philadelphia can do better and will do better for the state including all the rural counties, then that, I think, is very good, very healthy for Philadelphia. I will also challenge any of the people who are against amending "Resign to Run" to show how it has benefitted the ethics in our city.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

 

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  • Bob Dobolino

    How about we put business and property taxes on the ballot, as well as the budgets of city council members? What about reducing the size, scope and expense of City government – 70% of which goes to pay salaries, pensions and health care costs. Any chance that’ll be on the ballot this year? Cash payments to State and City politicos? The use of “expediters” at L&I? How about they all resign, and we keep our money?

  • Guest

    I could not disagree more. Resign to run is good public policy. When there is a vote in city council, in whose interest should they vote? In the interest of the voters who elected them to city council or in the interest of the voters who will be voting in the election for the job they would rather have? Or even worse, in the interest of the special interests who will fund their campaign for the next job? Voters should not have to worry about this sort of conflict of interest when they elect someone to a job.

    Seriously. City Council wants to continue to collect their six-figure salaries while they DON’T do the job you elected them to do because they’re spending their full time running for the office they’d rather have. Why should the taxpayers support their lifestyle.

    This charter amendment is emblematic of what is wrong with the city. For over half a century Philadelphia has been governed by a professional political class that cares only about getting reelected, amassing political power and profiting from politics. Most shamefully and perhaps least surprising is that the vote on city council to put this on the ballot was unanimous. They really don’t care about you.

    We need to keep “Resign to Run” and vote NO! on Question # 2.

  • JMatthewWolfe

    I could not disagree more. Resign to run is good public policy. When there is a vote in city council, in whose interest should they vote? In the interest of the voters who elected them to city council or in the interest of the voters who will be voting in the election for the job they would rather have? Or even worse, in the interest of the special interests who will fund their campaign for the next job? Voters should not have to worry about this sort of conflict of interest when they elect someone to a job.

    Seriously. City Council wants to continue to collect their six-figure salaries while they DON’T do the job you elected them to do because they’re spending their full time running for the office they’d rather have. Why should the taxpayers support their lifestyle.

    This charter amendment is emblematic of what is wrong with the city. For over half a century Philadelphia has been governed by a professional political class that cares only about getting reelected, amassing political power and profiting from politics. Most shamefully and perhaps least surprising is that the vote on city council to put this on the ballot was unanimous. They really don’t care about you.

    We need to keep “Resign to Run” and vote NO! on Question # 2.

    Matt Wolfe is a candidate in the special election for City Council at Large on May 20. Button # 201

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  • David Oh

    Among the more than 2,500 Pennsylvania municipalities, Philadelphia is far and away the largest economic contributor to the Commonwealth. More than a third of our state’s total GDP is generated right here. It can be puzzling, then, to hear about our City’s lack of political clout in Harrisburg. Whether the issue is tax structure or education funding, insufficient representation of Philadelphia’s interests in state government is often to blame.

    Why does Philadelphia — the greatest economic engine in the Commonwealth and the fifth largest city in the United States — wield relatively little influence in
    Harrisburg and in Washington, D.C.? I believe it is because our public servants
    are hamstrung by an antiquated rule that does not exist in any other city or
    town in Pennsylvania.

    That rule, “resign to run,” prevents Philadelphia’s public servants – and ONLY
    Philadelphia’s public servants – from running for statewide or federal elected
    offices while continuing to represent their constituents.

    That is why groups and individuals that are not shy about criticizing government,
    such as Committee of 70, David Thornburgh of Fels School of Government at the
    University of Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters, the Latino Empowerment
    Alliance of Delaware Valley and many others, support my bill to amend this
    outdated rule.

    Outside of Philadelphia, elected officials run without resigning for statewide
    positions like Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, Attorney General and
    Auditor General that directly affect the residents, employees and institutions
    of our city, including schools. The last time Philadelphians felt their voices
    were really being heard by the Commonwealth is when our former mayor, Ed
    Rendell, was elected governor. But his election is increasingly seen as an
    aberration: Philadelphia elected officials are understandably reluctant to run
    for higher office because of this unfair rule that applies only to them.

    The benefits of freeing more Philadelphia elected officials to join their
    counterparts across the state and the country to explore bids for higher office
    are numerous. More elected officials who are deeply familiar with our City,
    have strong relationships with its institutions and government and can advocate
    knowledgeably for the needs of our people would seek higher office. Regardless
    of success, statewide campaigns are a valuable platform on which to voice Philadelphia’s perspectives, successes and needs.

    “Resign to run” is an ineffective law that hurts our city at a time when we need much greater advocacy for support from Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

    It is incorrect to say “resign to run” has anything to do with campaigning “on the job.” Engaging in campaign activity using public resources is illegal in Pennsylvania – period. During the week and often on weekends, I am on the job as a City Councilman. I receive a salary for this service. But outside of this service, I am free to engage in personal and political activities. When I go to church, I am not being
    “paid” to go to church. When I take my children to the zoo, I am not being “paid” to take them to the zoo. I do that on my own time. That is how elected officials elsewhere in Pennsylvania and in the country run for re-election. It has to be on our own time, not the public’s time. We still have to do our jobs.

    Right now, members of the United States Congress and the Pennsylvania General
    Assembly as well as our Governor are running for re-election. They are still
    able to perform their official duties. Congress does not shut down during
    campaign season – nor should it. Why should there be a different set of rules
    for representatives of Philadelphia government?

    “Resign to run” has not made Philadelphia’s politicians more ethical — but it has
    made them less effective. “Resign to run” does not exist in any other city or town in our state and only one other county out of 67 in Pennsylvania.

    President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, Governor Tom Corbett, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Senator John McCain and the vast majority of our highest elected officials have all run campaigns while in office. When they win, it is a huge advantage for the people of their district, city or state.

    Philadelphia is a great economic, cultural and geographic asset for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But recently, we have had trouble convincing our friends outside of Philadelphia that investing in our great city will benefit them as well. The fact that the public officials who know our City best cannot run for statewide office without first resigning unfairly diminishes our voice in Harrisburg.

    Moreover, public service should not become a rich man’s game. This unfair rule that
    applies only to Philadelphia discourages public servants who are not personally
    wealthy or who lack major business connections from resigning their jobs in
    order to run for public office. Are the wealthy and the connected the only public servants qualified to advocate for Philadelphia’s people?

    “Resign to run” began as a well-intentioned idea but turned into a power play by the newly empowered Democratic political machine in 1951. Please learn the facts about how “resign to run” dampens Philadelphia’s potential and competitiveness and vote “yes” to amend this outdated law on May 20.