Will Bill Green and Sam Katz Team Up for Surprise City Council Run?
Bill Green and Sam Katz — two of the city’s most capable and pugnacious political pot-stirrers — are considering running for City Council at-large as a two-man slate in this November’s election, Citified has learned.
If they were to run and win, they could upend a political system that, by design, traditionally awards Philadelphia’s under-powered Republican party two at-large City Council seats. It would be an enormous blow for the city’s GOP.
A Katz-Green victory could also change the balance of power in City Council, and present likely next mayor Jim Kenney with a pair of well-informed and high-profile potential critics.
At minimum, the presence of Katz and Green in City Hall would lead to more frequent debate than has been the norm in City Council, whose members have largely been unified — some would say passive — under the leadership of Council President Darrell L. Clarke. Whether they could manage to actually advance legislation and shape policy is a more questionable proposition, but more on that in a moment.
Why should Katz and Green be taken seriously? Well, Green is an accomplished former Councilman, former Chair of the School Reform Commission (he’s still a commission member) and the son of former mayor and Democratic party boss William J. Green III. Katz is a three-time mayoral candidate and former Republican who came thisclose to beating John Street in 1999. Both pride themselves on their broad-strokes thinking about the city, and both have yearned to be mayor for years. Few political observers doubt their intelligence, but many have questioned if they have the patience and temperament to work effectively over an extended period in the slow and often-maddening world of city government.
All of this is just a possibility, not a sure thing. Far from it. Indeed, I’d wager it’s more likely they don’t get into the contest. Katz has flirted with running for mayor about as often as he’s actually campaigned for the job, most recently ruling out an Independent mayoral run this November. He’s also had a life outside politics for years now, running a documentary-oriented film company. Green, meanwhile, would likely relish the opportunity to get back into the political game now that he is no longer calling the shots at the SRC. But he’s already been an at-large Councilman. It’d be an audition for a job he already had; a job he grew frustrated with, and quit.
Assume, though, that they were to run. Could they win? I think so.
There are seven at-large City Council seats. The City Charter, as a hedge against single-party dominance over government, only permits parties to hold a maximum of five seats. So there are five Democratic at-large candidates, and five Republican ones, vying for seven seats. The Democratic candidates will finish 1-5, and all will win seats. That’s a given in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-1.
So the fight is over the last two Council seats, now held by incumbent Republicans David Oh and Dennis O’Brien. The other GOP nominees are Terry Tracy, Dan Tinney and Al Taubenberger. In a normal Council election year, the top two vote-getting Republicans would win those two final Council seats.
But this year is already unusual. Andrew Stober, a well-regarded transportation expert who recently left the Nutter administration, is running as an Independent candidate for City Council at-large. If he gets more votes than the Republican candidates do, he wins. The same would apply for Katz and Green. They don’t have to defeat any of the Democratic nominees. They just have to top the GOP candidates and Stober.
Could they do that? Well, both have far more name recognition than any of the GOP candidates. Both are politically moderate, and thus capable of winning votes from Independents, some Republicans and some Democrats. And both should be able to raise enough money to run effective campaigns.
Does the prospect spook the GOP? “We are appropriately concerned with the possibility of Independent or third party candidates,” said State Rep. and GOP city committee chairman John Taylor in an email. He noted that Independent and third party registration was on the rise in Philadelphia (there are just about 6,000 more Republicans in the city now than there are Independents or members of third parties). “We will use this opportunity, should it arise, as a wake up call for our Party and our candidates to go out and work hard during this general and convince voters that the time has come for major change and that our candidates are the best alternative.”
So yes. Absolutely. Katz and Green, if they get in, should be taken very seriously.
That doesn’t mean their election would be a slam dunk. There are Republicans who will only vote for GOP nominees. And, as Taylor said, the party would likely go to the wall to prevent this sort of defeat. If it’s shown that those two seats are no longer safely Republican, the GOP could be cut out of Council almost completely, not just now, but in the future. After all, what’s to stop other Independents or third party candidates from following the trail blazed by Green, Katz or Stober? And that would just about eliminate the already-weak Republican party as a force in local politics. So expert the GOP to fight tooth and nail if Katz and Green get in.
And there are plenty of prominent Democrats and labor unions that would surely prefer to see Oh and O’Brien in Council than they would Katz and Green. O’Brien in particular. Darrell Clarke donated $5,000 to his campaign, and an array of unions — including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which has of course gone about 3,000 rounds with Green — also supported O’Brien. So the election itself could be pretty interesting.
But it’s the aftermath, assuming Green and Katz did win, that would be most intriguing. Their presence on Council could play out in any number of ways, of course, but here are two scenarios I find plausible.
Scenario 1. They shake up Council in exactly the way it needs to be shaken up. They ask questions. They hire research-oriented staffs. They challenge, respectfully, both the next mayor and Clarke. Maybe they even make a few allies and advance some legislation. After all, despite his often-gruff manner, Green got a lot of meaningful ordinances enacted as a Councilman. But even if they’re unable to create a coalition, they do what an opposition party should (and what Council Republicans unfortunately don’t do), and hold City Hall’s Democrats accountable. Does anyone think City Council would have killed the PGW deal without a hearing had Green and Katz been Council members? No chance. None.
Or… Scenario 2. They quickly grow frustrated. Green is unable to hide his personal distaste for Kenney, which undermines any critiques and questions he might have for the new administration. Katz, who has only ever wanted to be the boss, finds it excruciating to be one of 17. The tedium of life as a Council member — endless hearings, the hamster wheel of budget season, constituent complaints — wears on them fast. They find it hard to make allies. Katz was the GOP’s standard-bearer in the only two remotely competitive mayoral general elections in decades. Green may have gotten bills passed when he was last on Council, but back then he was a Democrat. Now he’s an Independent, who was appointed by Tom Corbett to run a School Reform Commission that tried to take a crowbar to collective bargaining in its fight with the PFT. That’s a lot of baggage, as far as Council Democrats would be concerned. Oh, and Helen Gym — another of Green’s foes — will be a Council member this time too.
City Council is headed for a shakeup even if they don’t run, given the addition of Gym, Allan Domb, Cherelle Parker and Derek Green. If Katz and Green were to suddenly become part of that incoming class, well, Council’s dynamics would be scrambled beyond recognition.
I could go on, but let’s find out first if they’re really running. Katz and Green don’t have much time to decide. Nominating petitions are due August 3.