City rules limit who can run for mayor

How being wealthy helps

by Ellen Mattleman Kaplan
Posted 4/7/22

If current members of City Council want to run for mayor, they must first give up their council seats. 

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City rules limit who can run for mayor

How being wealthy helps


If three-term Council member Cindy Bass decides to throw her hat into the ring for Philadelphia’s mayoral election in 2023, there would be immediate implications for constituents in her 8th Councilmanic District, which includes Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy -  largely because of a provision in the city’s Home Rule Charter known as Resign-to-Run. 

Resign-to-run requires that any city officer or employee resign their positions before running for public office - unless they’ve already been elected once and are just running for reelection. Thus, if current members of City Council want to run for mayor, they must give up their council seats. 

Although the next council elections are also in 2023, members cannot simultaneously run for reelection and for mayor. They must choose. If they opt to run for mayor, and lose in the primary or general election, they could not return to their council seats (and their $130,000 plus salaries).  

It’s a weighty decision for would-be candidates, for both political and economic reasons. And, particularly for the City Council members who represent one of the ten councilmanic districts, it’s a decision that has great significance for their constituents. 

A resignation by Bass would leave a vacancy in the 8th Councilmanic District. A special election to fill the vacancy would be set by Council President Darrell L. Clarke, with the winner to serve out Bass’ four-year term, which ends in January 2024.

Who that person is really matters. Two front page stories in the Chestnut Hill Local (December 9) featured Bass’ key role on behalf of constituents in opposing two local development projects. Would her successor do the same?  Would the new councilperson automatically ascend to Bass’ role as chair of Council committees on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs or Public Health and Human Services? Become the frontrunner for election to the 8th District Council seat in 2023?

Of course, it’s far too early to answer these questions. And we don’t know whether Bass intends to run for mayor and, as of the publication of this article, she isn’t saying. 

But her name comes up in conversations about possible contenders for the job, so the prospect of her vacancy raises interesting issues - as it does for other purported hopefuls City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, City Councilmembers Derek S. Green, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

One is the continued need for Resign-to-Run, which was inserted in the 1952 Charter to allay concerns that public officials would use their positions to unduly influence and intimidate their employees, or neglect their official duties in order to campaign.

It seems those concerns continue. In May 2007, and again in May 2014, city voters rejected eliminating Resign-to-Run when the question was put before them on the ballot. These outcomes were particularly stunning since voters rarely reject ballot questions. 

So, with Resign-to-Run intact, a second question is when the field of mayoral candidates will become clear. According to opinions issued by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, one becomes a candidate either by filing nomination paperwork or by publicly announcing one’s candidacy.

Since major political party candidates aren’t usually required to file nomination papers until March of the year in which they are running, and minority political party and independent candidates not until after that year’s primary, most candidacies are launched through a public announcement. 

The Resign-to-Run restriction tends to delay announcements by covered city candidates. Why give up a salary and benefits until absolutely necessary? But with only two years remaining in Mayor Jim Kenney’s term-limited tenure, expect to start hearing more and more about “toes in the water” that fall short of an official public announcement. 

So, circling back to Bass: will she or won’t she? Stay tuned.  

Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, the former chief integrity officer for the executive branch of Philadelphia government, writes about political issues that impact residents of the 8th Councilmanic District. She has a nonpartisan consulting practice advising governmental and not-for-profit entities on ethics policies, training and enforcement.