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
June is Reentry Awareness Month in Philadelphia. https://t.co/FSb90RetGD 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
@ellisonreport on state legislation plan to expand gaming and privatize liquor sales in Philly—but at what cost?… https://t.co/cwCUjhT446 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
For Back on My Feet, running isn’t a gimmick; it’s a tool. https://t.co/zexnIpq3pR 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Philly native Jamol Manigault on 'Jason's Letter' shot in Philadelphia and Delaware. via @thephillyvoice https://t.co/n2xydUuVnu 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Part 8 of our Mystery Shopper series. Rx Narcan confusion at local pharmacies and battling with the bank. https://t.co/BR3iZd9d9X 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Meet The Disruptor: Saxbys CEO, Nick Bayer. A story about millennials & coffee that won't cause a generation war. https://t.co/XcnMBwbatA 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Real Stories: Fred Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission via @phillyhomeless https://t.co/XVtQJ4IXlf 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Megha Kulshreshtha's app, @foodconnectphl , helps solve the dual problems of food waste and hunger in Philadelphia. https://t.co/1Vzf9cEe6Z 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
@FairmountV founder, Don Kligerman, wants to start a movement to greater philanthropic engagement.… https://t.co/r0vV4z5FzA 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
June is Reentry Awareness Month in Philadelphia. https://t.co/R1ZS8St6Rm 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Philly-based Back on My Feet has improbably shown how running can help the homeless regain their footing.… https://t.co/7FYyn6XyWR 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Happy #SummerSolstice, we're on our way to the beach! What's that? It's only Wednesday? Well, fine then!… https://t.co/xjgDQuAozn 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Part 8 of our Mystery Shopper series. What happens when we attempt to purchase Narcan and do battle with the banks? https://t.co/hXkY96yOSE 
The Citizen
@thephilacitizen
Should Philly take a page from the Paris Climate Agreement to solve below-avg donation figures? @DonKligerman posits https://t.co/Zt1LdOZPaS 

LOAD MORE

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story