The King Is Leaving…but not yet…

Council President Darrell Clarke is stepping away from the organization’s big chair. But the folks who are being talked about as his successor need to remember that he’s not gone yet.

Back when my husband Chris and I were dating, spending Friday nights at the AMC-24 Movie Theater in Cherry Hill, New Jersey was kind of our thing.

I’m an AMC Stubbs member, so we’d get discounts on popcorn, soft drinks so large you can’t finish them, and, in the case of Chris, peanut M&Ms once we get to the theater. But beforehand, we’d grab dinner at the TGIFridays at the end of the theater’s parking lot.

One night, we had finished dinner and were headed to the movies when we were met at the door by someone I thought I’d never see at the TGIFridays in Cherry Hill: City Council President Darrell Clarke. Apparently, he was a dinner and a movie person too. We chatted for a minute, and I introduced him to Chris before we took off for the movie.

I thought about this moment when Clarke announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection on Thursday. While many of us who cover council on a regular basis thought he was probably going to step aside when his former chief of staff Curtis Wilkerson started circulating nominating petitions, we didn’t think he would do it this early.

But he has. And he’s promised to make sure that he goes out with a bang.

“I will continue to be involved in public service,” he told reporters in a post-council news conference. “I will max out the next 10 months as it relates to what I’m going to do on behalf of the City Council of Philadelphia. There will be no slowing down because it’s important.”

I think that the main thing that everyone needs to take out of that sentence is the phrase “I will max out the next 10 months,” which is a phrase that a folks seem to be overlooking.

While it’s the job of folks in the media like myself to speculate on such things as who’s next to run things in politics, it’s probably not a good idea for the people being mentioned as Clarke’s successor — Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones, and Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Kenyatta Johnson and Mark Squilla — to start doing the same.

Philadelphia is a place where the absolute worst thing that you can be is disrespectful. And campaigning for an office before someone has actually left it, especially when some of the people who will ultimately make that decision aren’t even on Council is kind of disrespectful.

Here’s what I mean. In a story published in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week speculating on Clarke’s plans, Councilmember Curtis Jones, the current Council majority leader, said he didn’t know what his colleague’s plans were because Clarke is pretty good at keeping things close to the vest.

But in the next breath, Jones all but announced his plans to run for Council president.


One thing that I’ve noticed about Clarke in the years I’ve been covering him as City Council President is that the only place where he might like drama is in the movies he watches. It’s only been since several of his colleagues resigned to run for Mayor that we’ve discovered that all may not have been as calm and serene as it appeared when such things as the Sweetened Beverage Tax and the Fair Workweek law were passed.

Elections, even elections within a legislative body, are by nature dramatic. And let’s be honest here. This is an election year with an open Mayor’s seat, so getting anything done was going to be a crapshoot in the first place.

Running to succeed Clarke as City Council President when there’s still work to be done under his tenure is only going to tick him off. While he’s said publicly that he’s not going to endorse anyone, folks had best believe that he’ll still be making moves behind the scenes when he’s no longer sitting in Council’s “Big Chair”.

Besides, there’s this whole matter of a city budget, a seemingly intractable gun violence problem, and the reputation of being the nation’s poorest city of its size that Council really should be dealing with.

Politics are what they are, be they internal or external.

And with the Council President leaving, the Mayor’s term ending, and 13 people working on getting new terms in office, we all need to put on our seatbelts.

It’s gonna be a bumpy ride…

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