A City Council with a pulse

by pkerkstra on April 19, 2011

Philadelphia City Council is a little bit like the ocean. Ancient. Unchanging. And deep. OK, so the metaphor isn’t perfect. The point is that council, most of the time, evolves very, very slowly. It is not unusual for district council members to log decades in City Hall. Hell, it’s almost the norm.

Which is what makes this primary election so unusual. Five incumbents—with a cumulative 124 years in council between them (yes, seriously)—are retiring. City Council President Anna Verna is among them. At minimum, then, Philadelphia next year will have five new council members (maybe more, as some incumbents are in competitive races) and a new council president. In this town, that counts as a revolution.

At the macro level, the elections give Michael Nutter a chance to build a block on council that will support him, as detailed in a solid piece of political analysis in the Inquirer this week.

Nutter, who in the past has endorsed candidates sparingly, is likely to back long-time Councilwoman Marian Tasco for president. He’s also thrown his support behind Fattah-machine candidate Cindy Bass in the Eighth District to replace Donna Reed Miller, and the newspapers are reporting he plans to announce soon his support for Mark Squilla in the First District to replace Frank DiCicco, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson in the Second District to replace Anna Verna, and Marty Bednarek in the Sixth District to replace Joan Krajewski.

A few of these races are proxy fights between Nutter and the resurgent Johnny Doc. Dougherty is backing Local 98’s political director Bobby Henon over Bednarek, and he seems to be thinking about supporting Councilman Darrell Clarke for the council presidency.

Sort of sounds like the same old thing, right? The city’s power players fighting among themselves and treating council as a kind of cage match. But even so, I suspect the new members, however indebted they may be to Nutter, Doc or ward leaders, will change the tone and direction of City Council.

Whoever replaces Verna is unlikely to run council as benevolently (or ineffectually, depending on your point of view) as she did. And the last class of council freshmen—which included Doc-backed Bill Green and Fattah-backed Curtis Jones Jr.—shook up an ossified council, in a very good way. This time there will be at least five, and maybe more. Democrat Bill Rubin might have a chance this fall at knocking off longtime Republican Councilman Brian O’Neill in the 10th district. It seems unlikely that he’ll actually lose, but DROP-tainted Frank Rizzo is facing his toughest reelection bid in a long time. And it’s always possible that a strong Democratic at-large candidate like Andy Toy or Sherrie Cohen could knock off an incumbent.

A lot of this, believe it or not, is due to DROP, the much loathed pension perk. Verna, Krajewski, Miller, DiCicco, Kelly—each and every one of them is enrolled in the retirement program. Are you still sure you hate it?

(This originally appeared on PhillyPost)

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