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.

Councilman 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.