The next mayor of Philadelphia is going to face massive challenges: A horribly underfunded pension system, a poverty rate higher than that of any other big city in the country, and a school district stuck in a seemingly never-ending budget crisis.
Oh, and City Council.
Sure, if Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney wins the general election as expected, he and most City Council members will share the same political party (because this is Philadelphia, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1; plus, lots of Democratic lawmakers are running unopposed in the fall). But being on the same team is no guarantee that Council and Kenney will get along, as Mayor Michael Nutter knows all too well.
In recent years, Council has expanded its reach by a wide margin. It hired its own lobbyist in Harrisburg, planned a total reorganization of city government, and killed Nutter’s proposed sale of Philadelphia Gas Works, to name just a few examples of its muscle-flexing.
Does Kenney have what it takes to work with City Council? He’ll need to have a productive relationship with lawmakers in order to push through his progressive agenda, which includes expanding pre-K, developing so-called “community schools,” and raising the minimum wage. Read more »
(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider. McCalla is a policy consultant who has provided pro bono advice to mayoral candidate Anthony H. Williams, amongst other candidates this election cycle.)
Over the last several weeks, culminating in the Tuesday election of Jim Kenney as the Democratic nominee for mayor, an historic shift was taking place amongst African American pols that creates a new reality in city politics.
Black political empowerment, before it went from a movement to a slogan, was fiercely predicated on cultural affinity. That is to say, like most Philadelphians, Blacks were going to “vote race.” Through the 1960’s, only three or four black elected officials — Congressman Robert Nix, Republican Councilwoman Ethel Allen, Councilmen Earl Vann and Tom McIntosh — made it into office in Philadelphia and not all at once. Political impotence combined with the oscillating indifference/hostility of City Hall, forged the determination to grow in power as the black population grew. Read more »
1. Philly’s Campaign Finance Reform, Against All Odds, Is Still Kind of Working
The gist: Look, it’s true: Super PACs, which can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections as long as they don’t coordinate with any campaigns, are dominating Philadelphia’s mayoral race. A single super PAC backing state Sen. Anthony Williams for mayor stockpiled nearly $7 million from Jan. 1st to May 4th. That’s more money than was raised in 2015 by all six of the city’s Democratic mayoral candidates combined. Meanwhile, the labor-affiliated super PACs Building a Better Pa. and Forward Philadelphia, which are supporting former City Councilman Jim Kenney, together raised almost $2.3 million. Compare that to the three frontrunners — Williams, Kenney and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham — whose campaigns each raised only $1 million-plus.
Will the funders of Philadelphia’s super PACs have undue influence over the next mayor? That’s a fair, and open, question. But there’s good news! The candidates themselves still must abide by the city’s campaign finance rules, which cap contributions at $2,900 for individuals and $11,5000 for political action committees. Read more »
City Council President Darrell Clarke laid out a plan last week to help fund Philadelphia’s cash-starved schools: He wants to sell liens on commercial properties, which he says could raise “millions of dollars” a year.
Clarke also suggested lien sales would give residents more faith in the city’s tax collection efforts. Currently, Clarke said, “This city cannot say with full confidence that it is doing everything it can to collect from those who owe.”
Tax lien sales have both major pros and cons. As the debate on education funding moves forward, let’s consider a few of them. First, the potential upsides:
Why it matters: Well, that’s an awful lot of money, and it’ll buy a lot of TV time. It’s a particularly big figure in a campaign where the candidates themselves seem to have struggled raising cash. Some people wonder why Tony Williams is seen by many political pros as the favorite in this race, even if he’s not the current frontrunner. This is a big chunk of the reason why. Read more »
City Council President Darrell Clarke—and by extension City Council as a whole—is showing in both words and deeds that Council intends to play a huge, perhaps dominant, role in city government now and in the future, no matter who is elected mayor. Read more »
Lucky for them, that debate won’t take place until after the May 19th primary, in which 15 of 16 Council members are up for reelection. That’s because Council has scheduled its hearing on education funding for May 26th.
During the interview, I found Oliver to be energetic and honest and passionate about the city. But he was also stunningly vague at times, and perhaps more surprisingly, unapologetic about his lack of specific proposals to fix the city’s problems. Toward the end of the Q&A, I told Oliver I thought the mayor’s race in general has suffered from a dearth of ideas. (You can watch the full exchange above.)
As a candidate who has pitched himself as someone with “fresh eyes,” I asked him what his big idea is for the city. He doubled down on being vague.