Doug Oliver: Here’s Why the Mayoral Field Is Boring

Now even likely candidates are admitting the race is a snooze.

Doug Oliver, Mayor's Press Secretary. Copyright City of Philadelphia. Photograph by Mitchell Leff.

Doug Oliver. Photo Credit: Mitchell Lef, City of Philadelphia.

Well, this can’t be good: Philadelphia’s mayoral field is apparently such a bore that now even the presumed candidates themselves are trying to explain why that is.

Doug Oliver, a former spokesman for Mayor Nutter who is expected to officially launch his mayoral campaign any day now, wrote this week on his “DO2015” website, “It’s no surprise to me that this year’s crop of candidates isn’t plentiful or diverse.”

But Oliver says the candidates “who have boldly stepped into the arena” are not to blame. Rather, he writes that potential candidates are discouraged from running for mayor because of the city’s political culture, campaign finance laws and “resign-to-run” rule:

The problem is NOT the people in the race. The problem is the environment in which the race occurs.

Consider these realities about a decision to run for Mayor:

1. If you believe that it takes $4m to run a credible Mayoral Campaign, then you must also believe that you can find approximately 1,400 people willing to give you the maximum contribution of 2,900 in one of the lowest income cities in the country. Even if you allow for PAC contributions, it’s tough to envision where the “necessary” money comes from. This discourages potential candidates.

2. If you believe that you are independently wealthy enough to finance your own campaign, you must also believe that 1.) limited-income voters won’t interpret your self-funding as an effort to “buy” City Hall and 2.) you must believe that you can overcome the party machine that typically frowns upon the idea of new comers who haven’t come through the system. Both are hard to imagine and therefore discourage potential candidates.

3. If you are an elected official or a public employee and you believe you are able to capably lead the City, you must also believe that you are able to quit your job in an uncertain economy to pursue the Mayor’s Office. That very real risk can discourage potential candidates.

4. Lastly, If you believe you’re young and fresh with new ideas that would benefit the City and you’re willing to present those ideas to the City, then you must also believe that Philadelphia doesn’t eat its young and won’t dismiss you as inexperienced, inappropriately ambitious or naive. There’s no proof to the contrary, and this ultimately discourages potential candidates.

There’s no doubt that, for a variety of reasons, qualified potential candidates in this town are discouraged from running for mayor.

But Oliver is clearly also making a pitch here for his own mayoral candidacy. Expect to hear a lot more from him in the next few months about being “young and fresh with new ideas.”