The Seat of Power

By the time we get to the 2023 City Council race, there will probably be 10 or more candidates for City Council at Large vying to be on the ballot.

The question is, Why?!

I get a lot of invitations to things these days.

While most of these invites are to Christmas parties, I’m also getting a lot of folks inviting me to campaign announcements. Over the Christmas season, I’ve been invited to a bunch of announcements where people have thrown their hats into the ring for various offices.

But the most intriguing announcements to me are the ones for City Council At-Large. These are the members of City Council that aren’t attached to a district. These seven men and women — five majority party members and two from minority parties — serve as the “big picture thinkers” of City Council because they can look at the entire city and come up with ideas that they think would work everywhere.

Like their district councilperson colleagues, they can produce legislation. But they don’t have a budget to do community events. For example, to do his annual series of Philly Live events that spotlight the city’s music and entertainment communities and how they help the city economically, Councilmember David Oh must raise his own money.

They also don’t have the power to enforce the legislation that they get passed throughout the city. While they’re usually who you come to when you can’t get satisfaction from your District Councilperson on a particular issue, said councilperson can carve out an exemption to any bill you get passed for their district.

Which is why I find the fact that everyone seems to be rushing to put their name on the ballot for City Council At-Large so interesting.

I don’t know about you, but if my choices were running for an office where I can make some real changes for my community because it’s my district and running for an office where everything I propose can be ignored by my colleagues, I’m taking door #1. I’d want to make an impact, not a splash.

And no matter what you do as a Councilperson At-Large, a District Councilperson can turn it into a splash, whether it should make an impact or not.

One of the reasons I’ve never understood why people would rather run for an at-large seat than a district seat was because of the sheer number of people you’d be competing against. Like I said, there will be AT LEAST 10 people on the ballot, if not more by the time we get to the primary elections in May.

Of that 10, at least five of them will be incumbents. While Councilperson At-Large Sharon Vaughn told Hall Monitor back in November that she wasn’t interested in doing anything other than filling former Councilmember Derek Green’s expired term, the rest of the incumbents — Oh, Jimmy Harrity, Isaiah Thomas, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and Kendra Brooks — are probably going to be on the ballot.

But even then, you’re still at the mercy of a bunch of numbers in a Horn and Hardart can. Pick the wrong one and your ballot position can leave you with one helluva a mountain to climb. It’s not impossible, but unless you have the mother of all campaign ground games, good luck with that.

Now before you say that running city-wide could heighten your profile for other offices, don’t. With the exception of Philly’s current mayor, Jim Kenney, not a lot of people make it into the Big Chair from City Council At-Large. Most of them get there from a district council seat.

Which brings me to another point. If the goal here is to make changes to your neighborhood or have more of a say in your section of the city, it would make more sense, at least to me, to be where the power is. And the power is in district council seats.

Councilmanic prerogative, until it isn’t, is the law of the land here in Philly. I don’t know about you, but the frustration of having to go through people to get my ideas turned into city policy would frustrate the heck out of me. Just saying.

Also, if you present the right message, you can replace a district councilperson. It’s not totally impossible and it doesn’t put you at the mercy of a Horn and Hardart coffee can.

Hopefully, folks will try that this year.

Besides, trying to arrange interviews for eleventybillion people vying for seven seats may require time we here at Hall Monitor don’t have…

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