NEWSLETTER SIGNUP

By signing up to our newsletter, you agree to our terms.

Your City Defined: Councilmanic Prerogative

You scratch my Councilman's back, I'll get you that property deal

Councilmanic Prerogative refers to the near-absolute power each of the city’s 10 District council members wield over development projects in their respective districts. This longstanding tradition—not codified in any law or the Home Charter—is a gentleman’s agreement whereby District Council members defer to the Councilperson in whose district a project resides. The result is that each Councilperson holds the power to green-light or stall all projects in his or her district, whether for good or ill.

Councilmanic Prerogative In Action: Seven years ago, Councilman Brian O’Neill held up an $800 million expansion of Fox Chase Cancer Center in his Northeast district because he wanted Fox Chase to fund a “community benefit fund.” (When Fox Chase merged with Temple, the issue became moot).

Remember how long it took for the Barnes to relocate to the city? That was, in part, because Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell blocked the relocation of the city’s Youth Detention Center to her West Philadelphia district—until she got a $12 million grant for a community center named after her late husband.

The Case For: City Council President Darrell Clarke argues that, “in return for the prerogative, Council expects the district council member to negotiate on the Council’s and the city’s behalf to improve the project, often dramatically.”

The Case Against: The tradition weakens the power of the planning commission, zoning board and neighborhood groups. Developers claim what’s best for the city rarely comes up, as opposed to what’s best for the individual Councilperson—and that the tradition can lead to de facto extortion. In some cases, it has facilitated actual extortion: Former Council members George Schwartz, Rick Mariano and Leland Beloff all were sentenced to jail for shaking down developers. Only a handful of cities still practice the tradition, including Chicago, where nearly a dozen Aldermen have been imprisoned for abusing it.

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

Recent Tweets
@THEPHILACITIZEN

@thephilacitizen @@thephilacitizen
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Closing the generation—and employment—gap with the Refugee Urban Farm in South Philly. https://t.co/66wwl275Om 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
WURD's @Cdellison takes on Tuesday's voter turnout, which, while a bit better, is hardly anything to celebrate: https://t.co/aakojzyImf 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
North Philly mom of seven wins The Citizen's $5,000 Voter Lottery. Watch the giveaway: https://t.co/ftiIihhsAu 🙌🏾 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
J.P. Romney on how Philly's bizarro ward system affects the way we vote: https://t.co/AOX4bULRhA #yourcitydefined 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Larry Platt on the archaic system we use to elect judges: https://t.co/FShpXjewIp 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Stop all the back-patting. We just let 11 percent of the city’s population tell us what to do and how to live: https://t.co/aakojzyImf 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
We’re Hiring! Join our team as a Special Events Coordinator. #JobsPHL https://t.co/qi2XBvUtNA 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Using a Shark Tank format, Penn students pitch their social innovation projects that they think could improve PHL: https://t.co/6FmjpsPgxT 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Really? Turnout was good? We just let 11 percent of the city’s population tell us what to do and how to live 🤔… https://t.co/7cf36HVKWk 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
HEADS UP: @BeautifulPHL is awarding 5 $1K minigrants to local orgs committed to combating cigarette litter. Details: https://t.co/ZDTjtvJdOz 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
RT @Commish_Schmidt:Here's an updated look at voter turnout in recent District Attorney/City Controller Primary Elections in Philadelph… https://t.co/5RzU6yJQit 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
.@mompopsphilly signs massive national deal, delivering even more popsicles to kids with dietary issues:… https://t.co/SBLVMXbVsa 

LOAD MORE

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story